Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Saga of the Time-Traveling FedEx Slips

Not pictured: H.G. Wells, Dr. Who, or Kathryn Janeway

About a week ago, I got a notice on my door from FedEx saying that this was my third and final notice, and I now had to go pick up my package from their delivery center way down in Emeryville. The thing is, that was the first I'd heard of it. I called them to complain, and they apologized, saying that their system showed two previous delivery attempts, but the delivery person should have left a slip at each attempt. They offered to send it again, but I said I'd just go pick it up.

So I biked down to Emeryville and picked up the package. It was my new phone, by the way, so send me an email if you'd like the new number. Anyway, I figured it was an inconvenience, but I'd live.

Then a weird thing happened: a few days later, I got a notice on my door saying it was the first delivery attempt. But that's not the weirdest part: the date on the notice was several days before the final notice's date (and about a week before the date the slip mysteriously appeared on my door). And sure enough, the next day I got the "second" notice, dated the day after the "first," both for an item I had already retrieved.

In an attempt to cause a rift in the space-time continuum, I looked up the number for the second slip on the FedEx website. The site found no such package.

There are only two possibilities I can think of:

* The delivery person found out that I was unhappy about not receiving the first two notices, and figured that I must really, really love notices. In this hypothetical delivery person's brain, the notices themselves must have some totemic quality, an intrinsic value separate from the package itself. Thus, the delivery person, out of the goodness of his/her heart, decided to grant me my beloved slips, and posted them on my door.

* The slips were posted on the days they were supposed to, but slipped through a rift in space-time and ended up on my door about a week later than they should have.

I honestly can't think of any other explanations. I've considered a few, but had to reject them:

* The slip was posted on time, but it fell off my door, and a helpful neighbor saw it a few days later and replaced it. But how do you explain the second slip also appearing, a day later?

* The two mysterious slips were actually for a second, unrelated package. So why were the dates off by several days, and why didn't anything come up when I looked them up on the website?

If you can think of any other explanation, please let me know. Just look for the guy in the tin-foil hat.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Legend of Korra

What you see above is a picture of Korra, a young woman from the Southern Water Tribe who becomes the Avatar after Aang. She will star in a new show on Nickelodeon, made by the team behind the original animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Only a few details have been released, on this site that has currently been brought down by the server load of countless squee'ing Avatar fans.

We do know these things:

  • Korra will be taught by Tenzin, who is Aang's son.

  • It will take place in a steampunk metropolis.

  • Part of the plot will deal with an anti-bending movement.

  • It takes place 70 years after the original show.

Some of you might be saying, "Aang's son?!" or "Steampunk in Avatar?!" (as if that's news), and I understand your nervousness. Those were my first reactions, too, but I've gotten over my initial shock and I'm currently in a state of extreme excitement bordering on squee. I remember what it was like watching the original show and wondering, worrying, if the creators would do something to mess it up along the way, but they always steered us right. Personally, I'd just like to know that the same animation studios will be doing the artwork, and I'll be set.

EDIT: A great interview with Mike and Brian here: 'Legend of Korra': The 'Avatar' Creators on the New Spinoff. This show sounds SO GOOD YOU GUYS!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fake Book Review: Sir Alec Byrd and the Queen of the Sky Pirates

(Note: there is no such book as Sir Alec Byrd and the Queen of the Sky Pirates. All of the names in this review are made up.)

In Sir Alec Byrd and the Queen of the Sky Pirates, B. B. Strauss (writing under the pseudonym Reginald Chestertham) begins what can be considered the golden age of Byrd stories, leaving behind the hackneyed plots of earlier tales while not yet devolving into the jingoism of the later stories.

The Queen of the Sky Pirates is perhaps best known for its thrilling climax, which depicts Sir Alec's dogfight with the sky pirates among the peaks of the Himalayas, and culminates in a one-on-one dogfight between Byrd and the Queen of the Sky Pirates deep within the ancient ruins hidden in the mountains.

Though she never gets a name, the character of the Queen makes the story interesting to scholars of Strauss's work, as she clearly shows how the author was maturing as a writer. Several commentators have focused on the fact that the Queen, a black woman, is one of the few characters in all of the Byrd stories to shoot down Byrd in a fair, one-on-one dogfight (the others being Baron Hell in The Pharaoh's Heart, Otto von Dietrich in Gorombaa, Island of Monsters and Lord Percy Fitzhugh in The Curse of the Maharajah's Gold). The dogfight itself, which takes place over a series of unnamed Mediterranean islands, is considered one of the most thrilling and realistic depictions of one-on-one air combat in the series.

Though it has received less attention from scholars, an equally important aspect of the Queen's character is that she is presented as an attractive woman. When Byrd first sees her in a secret aviators' bar in Greece, he asks Sophia, "Who is that beautiful woman who just came in?" In the ensuing scene, where Byrd and the Queen flirt from across the bar, Strauss shows that he has come a long way from earlier stories such as Sir Alec Byrd and the Cannibal Head-hunters of the Congo.

When Sophia is jealous of Byrd's flirtation with the Queen, we see that the co-owner of the Aurora is becoming a more well-rounded character, herself. In previous stories, Strauss uses Sophia as a plot device. Her secret island shop serves as a place for an injured Byrd to take the damaged Aurora to get them both patched up. Sophia passes on news and fusses over the damage to her plane, often with pages of description in which Strauss overindulges in his passion for amateur engine-building. In The Queen of the Sky Pirates, Strauss delves more deeply into the relationship between Sir Alec and Sophia, describing the plane they built together as their "child" and exploring issues of responsibility in the life of his brawling, devil-may-care hero.

While Sir Alec gets into a brawl in virtually every Byrd story, The Queen of the Sky Pirates is notably the first time he gets into trouble for it. During the opening scene, at a gala in a New York museum, the famous ace is insulted by an airplane racer. When Sir Alec begins to fight the dandy, the two are forcibly removed from the room, meaning that Sir Alec is not present when the Sky Pirates arrive and steal the a stone idol from the museum, setting off the chain of events that constitute the rest of the tale.

Much has been made of Strauss's fascination with weird fiction and his attempts to incorporate it into his stories, but the stone idols and the lost city in the Himalayas are one of the most effective examples found in the series. Strauss leaves both the idols and the city they guard shrouded in mystery, allowing the reader to guess "what hand might carve such grotesque features, and what mind might conceive such a horrid shape." When the city is revealed in the final scene, Strauss describes the "Cyclopean structures flashing by," lifting the most recognizable descriptions from his contemporary writers while focusing on the dogfight itself.

Some modern editors have chosen to begin Sir Alec Byrd collections with The Queen of the Sky Pirates, and there is evidence that Strauss himself considered the tale the first "true" Byrd story, as later stories stop referencing events of novels that preceded The Queen of the Sky Pirates.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I don't like sand

What's up with all these D&D posts lately? Well, I've been playing a lot of D&D, and I know that my audience (all four of you) is probably interested in hearing about D&D. So here you go, another D&D post.

I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.
--Anakin Skywalker

I agree, Anakin. But you left out one important detail about sand: it explodes, and it kills you! Shikirr and his clutch found this out the hard way on Wednesday, when we found ourselves fighting monsters that were living dust devils.

Before the monsters showed up, we met a dwarf who spoke with Jarvix and Castri while Yuka and Shikirr kept careful watch. The dwarf warned us that we were fighting someone called the Wastewalker, who apparently has a vendetta against the Veiled Alliance. Thanks for nothing, Jarvix and Barcan! I was happy being a bug-slave and now here I am, running from my life from people who aren't even out to get me. Well, they're my clutch-mates now, so I'll defend them with my life. The jerks.

The fact that we were fighting the Wastewalker didn't come as a surprise to the players, since the module is called Fury of the Wastewalker. It didn't mean much to the characters, either, as we had already gathered that the storm wasn't natural. We also learned that the Wastewalker's lieutenant, a siltrunner lizard, had a personal grudge against the dwarf, and was coming for him.

After the dwarf showed off his gnarly obsidian wounds, we got attacked by dust devils. One of them promptly exploded, dealing massive damage, including a critical hit on yours truly. I went from 33 HP to 11, then used my Speed of Thought ability to climb onto a rock to avoid the creatures, incurring an opportunity attack that dropped me to 6. Then the sand creature attacked, dealing 11 more damage and knocking me out before I even had a turn. GG, uninstall.

Two of our players were out for the day, so our DM let the first two people to go down play as their characters. I say the first two because, as you may have guessed, our party was soon literally biting the dust. The sand creatures made a mockery of our piecemeal armor and meager defenses. As Jarvix's player, who took over Phye, pointed out at one attack, the attack roll was over twice Phye's defense value. The DM was consistently rolling in the mid to high twenties on his attack rolls, which makes me wonder why he didn't just go straight to rolling damage. Oh that's right; in case he landed critical hits, which he got at least two of on Wednesday.

Shikirr was down, so I got to play Barcan, the human star-sorceror who has the survivability of a damp marshmallow. Because Barcan was late to the battle, he was the last one standing as the lizard-person lieutenant showed up. I couldn't do much about it as one of the dust devils picked up the dwarf, who was already having a seizure from the lieutenant's magical attacks. The lieutenant then cold-bloodedly stabbed him in the heart. Dag.

The dust devils turned to Barcan, and I knew they'd make short work of me. So I figured, heck, this isn't my regular character, we're all about to go down, and I'm not going to get a TPK with a daily power still remaining. So I flung out Barcan's daily power: Cosmos Call.

I focused the power of the unknowable void in my fragile human mind, just long enough to direct it into the skull of my enemy. The lizard man squealed as the power of the universe overwhelmed his brain and flat out killed him.

I like to think that Barcan had a little smirk on his face as the dust devils swung over and beat the tar out of him.

Then our DM dropped the bombshell: with the lizard person lieutenant dead, the dust devils would dissipate after a round. So basically, once they were done with me, they gently fell back into the desert, leaving a suddenly peaceful scene of a bunch of bodies and unconscious people.

I like to think that, when we wake up, we'll be spitting out sand and complaining sand getting into places we didn't even know we had, like Iago in Disney's Aladdin.

Anyone? Anyone?

*cricket, cricket*

Oh, well. See you in Athas!