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September 28th, 2011

11:09 am
Goddamnit, DC reboot, you are not making me happy.

Expect another long post about this next week once I've read all the #1 issues. Even the really shitty ones.

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September 26th, 2011

07:59 pm - Exile Empire - The Siege of Zantashk I
Has it really been nearly three months since our last Exile Empire D&D session? Good grief, it has. I blame myself and all the blogging I've been doing eating up my precious Sundays. Well, that and players not being able to make it.

But yesterday the planets aligned, most everyone was in town and we had a few hours before people had to skedaddle, so we got right back into the political intrigue and complex machinations. Oh no, that's right, I tried to kill the PCs with scorpions and hyenas.

Details behind the cut.
Read more...Collapse )

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September 20th, 2011

06:15 pm
The Herald Sun story on our cat Graeme has made its way to Hong Kong and Brazil, he's gained 200 new Facebook fans in three days and Whiskas are sending us a hamper of food and cat treats.

I don't understand this world any more.

...that said, we're seriously thinking about making and selling T-shirts.

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September 17th, 2011

07:18 pm - The cat that walked through social media
Never before have I found myself in a situation where my pet is more popular, famous and media-savvy than I am.

Let me explain.

I think I've mentioned Graeme Riley, Ace of Cats here before, our adorable, lap-sitting, chocolate-eating, cardigan-raping moggy. He's something of a local celebrity because of his habit of hanging around the train station, soaking up the sun and rubbing up against commuters in the hopes of food and affection. Something, I must point out, that is apparently fine for a cat to do, but if I was to try it I'd be in a magistrate's court. Where's the justice?

Anyway, the loveable scamp is very popular around these parts. And apparently that soupcon of popularity is all you need to become a state-wide sensation in this X Factor era. 

Exhibit A: Today's Herald Sun, with an online story and video of Graeme that mirrors a page 3 story about him in the actual newspaper.

That's right, page 3 - after the football, but before anything that could actually be called news.

This isn't the first time we've been approached by the media about Graeme - earlier this year there was some interest in putting him into some train-platform-safety posters, because he always sits behind the yellow line when prowling the platforms, and as a result the local Leader paper and (I think) Channel 9 both expressed an interest in doing a story. We didn't much like the idea of putting him on TV, and we couldn't get organised with the Leader journalists, so that all fell through. Then on Thursday, N. got a call from the Sun's transport/tech journalist, wanting to do a small article on Graeme as a feel-good piece, probably prompted by a couple of mentions of him in the letter pages of MX. We were a bit hesitant, but in the end decided we'd allow it because it would only be a tiny little thing.

Page 3. A story about our cat covers 80% of page 3 of Victoria's most popular newspaper.

There's really no way to make sense of that, other than to throw your hands up in disbelief, laminate the page for posterity and post about it on Facebook, where Graeme's fan page has accumulated some 40 new followers, none of whom we know. People are talking about him, and the tangled webs of FB conversations and Twitterstreams are revealing that a bunch of people in this neighbourhood know Graeme, or us, or people we know, or just like talking about pussy cats on the interwebs.

We're thinking of making T-shirts and selling them to the locals. Probably without mentioning what he'd do to the shirts if he was alone with them. That aspect of his character was left out of the piece.

Am I jealous of my cat's sudden burst of fame? Not really; I'll wait until he releases a book before I get envious. Am I worried that someone will snatch him off the street to hold him for ransom, or because they want to own the famous Page 3 Cat? Um... yeah, a little. People are weird, especially Herald Sun readers. We asked them to hold back a few details, like our suburb and the station he hangs out at, which mollifies me a bit, but it's still going to be a nervous week or two around Home Base Graeme.

So anyhoo, that's our brush with fame this weekend. Tune in next weekend when Graeme cuts a single with Beyonce, the Australian does an article about the plastic magpies across the street, and I make a plea for understanding in my public transport frottage case. Come on, it's just as cute when I do it, surely.

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September 10th, 2011

10:51 am
Another great comment on Orson Scott Card and HomophobicHamletRevisionismGate, this time from Let's Be Friends Again:

Say what you like about the internet, but it proves that in times of cultural crisis, brave men and women will come together to mock the fuck out of shit that is stupid. It's like the spirit of the Blitz.

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September 8th, 2011

04:19 pm - No moron-o
Orson Scott Card, in his relentless dedication to proving to everyone that enjoyed Ender's Game that they should have read something else back in high school, has written a new novella, Hamlet's Father, which commits two head-shaking sins:
  1. It rewrites Hamlet in plain language, because evocative Shakespearean prose is bad for some reason
  2. It makes Hamlet's father evil and deserving of death because he's gay, because WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK
Don't believe me? Check out this review, in which William Alexander manages to be a much calmer writer than I am. I would have been mailing Card my used toilet paper after two chapters.

But the internet rains down blessing just as it gives homophobic douchecanoes the opportunity to kill trees, and author Scott Lynch has used LiveJournal to create the best thing in the history of ever:




version of


formerly by William Shakespeare

Stir to the adrenaline-fueled Agincourt speech...

Westomoreland stared at the big army of the French.

"The French army is so big," said Westmoreland. "I wish we had more guys."

"Who says we need more guys?" shouted King Henry as he rode up. "I've thought really hard about this. The less of us there are, the better it is for us!"

"I'm not sure it works that way, my liege," said Westmoreland.

"Really? I don't know," said Henry. "Sounds good to me. Maybe I'm sleepy! I spent all night wandering around the camp LARPing."

"Reinforcements would be really nice," said Westomoreland. 

"What are you, Westmoreland, a homo?" shouted Henry. "We don't need more men to fight the French! This will be like fighting Morrisey's back-up band. And if anyone actually does survive the fight, it'll be great! Think of the stories you can tell! And the scars! Chicks dig scars!" 

Scott Lynch, you're my hero. And I totally mean that in a gay way.

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September 4th, 2011

10:33 pm - Who?
So I've finally started watching the new series of Doctor Who. No, not new in the Matt Smith sense; new in the overall sense. I haven't watched any Who since the no-longer-mentioned Paul McGann made-for-TV movie, so I'm starting fresh with the Christopher Eccleston run.

I know, I know, terrible nerd, can't believe you don't sleep with the DVDs under your pillow and so on. But I'm too disorganised to watch broadcast TV on a regular schedule, and too lazy to bother downloading shows to watch at my leisure. It's been on my to-borrow-from-the-local-DVD-library-that-I-want-to-support list for ages, and finally we're getting around to it (well, N. has seen them already, but she humours me).

Thus far I've watched the first six episodes, half the season, and I have one main question.

...this gets better, right?

I know, I know, heresy, string him up by his balls and so on. But honestly, so far this has ranged from alright, with occasional sparks of something better, down to fucking dreadful kill-your-television bollocks. That was episode 6, 'Dalek', in which the last surviving Dalek is both the ultimate murderwank destroyer and a sad puppy who only want sunshine and love and syrupy background music OH FUCK OFF.

So much of the show thus far has seemed bizarrely tongue-in-cheek, like it's a sci-fi show that wants to keep winking to the audience that hey, isn't this shit daft, I know right, but let's just laugh at the silly explosions and the fat people who fart a lot. Yes, fart gags, that's how I like in my TV for grown-ups. All the clever lampshading and recurring motifs and pop culture references do is keep reminding me that this is a TV show, one that rarely lets you immerse yourself for more than a moment or two before yanking you back down with a slick, empty joke.

And don't get me started on some of the flabby, repetitive direction. Apparently the main thing people do when confronted with danger in this show is stand and stare at it for several minutes, sometimes while cutting to seperate scenes where people do the same thing. No running away, no fighting back, just paralysed helplessness and crying out for someone else to do something. Cut to someone else staring. Cut back to paralsyis. To staring. To paralysis. Eventually someone makes a decision, performs a pissweak stunt or reveals a wobbly CGI monster, and the show moves on. This kind of idiot suspense pads out several episodes, including the pilot, and as you can tell it's giving me the shits.

Look, I get that my memories of Old Who are filtered through being 15 and loving any shit with aliens and death with it, but the impression I still carry of much of that material is that the creators knew the limitations they were working under and did their best to produce good work within them. It was, on the whole, a show that aimed higher than the popular perception of the kids watching it and treated them like adults, to a degree. So far the modern show seems just the opposite; obstentiably aimed at adults, what with the violence and talk of sex and pop culture references, but aiming below that audience in an attempt to either be an all-ages show or just to let grown-ups feel like teenagers because someone on the telly in an alien fright wig said bum.


Having said all that, Eccleston is a decent Doctor, for all that the scripts just call for him to shout and gurn most of the time. And I quite like Billie Piper's Rose, even though the helplessness forced upon her means that she spends most episodes calling for help. I'm intrigued by the hints of overplot, I thought the third episode with Charles Dickens had some merit, and I'm told that Stephen Moffat's episodes are a lot more engaging and intelligent.

But still. I expected more. I hope at some point I get it.

I also find myself unimpressed with the much-vaunted Doctor Who RPG, which marries largely standard design ideas with undisciplined (if enthusiastic) writing and sloppy, imprecise editing.

But that's flamebait for another time, perhaps.

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August 27th, 2011

10:21 pm - Controlled plummeting for great justice
So as a change of pace from my usual Saturday-afternoon-activities of reading and playing video games, today I threw myself face-first off a five-storey building while wearing a Batman T-shirt. That was kinda cool. The whole thing was run by Rap Jumping, and our friends JK and L. asked me to join in after one of their party had to bow out. With N. taking photos, we joined a group of people doing three runs down the side of a hostel in Southbank. The rappelling was a face-forward style, running and jumping down a static rope while attached via a harness - you control your speed by opening and closing your hands, while fighting the tendency to clench your fists in atavistic terror and thus be left dangling from the side of the building while the observers on the ground mock you. We started off by sitting on the edge of the roof and sliding off, but quickly moved to standing on the edge and walking/dropping forward to a horizontal position. In both cases you walk forward/down, but the last run involved jumping out as far/fast as possible in a brief freefall. Which was kind of awesome. The whole thing was huge fun. Did the Bat-symbol T-shirt help? Yeah, it really did. I'm not afraid of heights, but that doesn't make it psychologically easy to walk off the edge of a building while your senses loudly scream that that gravity is not your friend. But taking on a bit of Batman into my head made me that little braver and confident, as well as making me determined not to let my fictional role-model down. This is the kind of thinking Grant Morrison talks about in Supergods, and while I came away from that book with mixed feelings (which I'll talk about in a proper review sometime soonish), I think he has the right of it there - humans have the capacity to imagine concepts that we can then draw upon for inspiration, whether that's God or a guy dressed as a bat. Plus it made it a lot more amusing, and made the photos a lot more entertaining. Would I do it again? Sure! Although I need to work out what I was doing that made my knee - my good knee - hurt so bad during the process. Batman wouldn't advise rappelling injured unless it was really necessary, after all.

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August 24th, 2011

09:05 pm - Education is a trap
So last year I did enough freelance writing work to rack up extra taxes, and as a result had to pay off a $500 debt over the year.

This year I did more freelancing, and had a pay rise as well, so the resulting total was enough to kick me up several brackets for checking my HECS debt.

Which means that, according to the tax return I just submitted, I owe about $3500 this year.


...and all for a degree I studied nearly 20 years ago and didn't actually finish.

I kinda wish I'd spent my whole twenties drunk and unemployed now, rather than just most of them.

Anyway, if you can think of a way of scaring up $3500 in the next few months, let me know. Even if it's illegal or requires selling one of my organs.

They grow back, right?

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August 19th, 2011

10:13 am
I finished Supergods, and will probably write a proper review in the next week or two. Some good things, some iffy things, but on the whole a worthwhile read. Even with the Oxford commas and poorly typeset apostrophes.

Yes, I notice those things in books I read. It's annoying but I can't turn it off.

Anyway, the main effect of the book has been to make me nostalgic for the 1990s - not the comics, but the energy, the positivity, the willingness to try new things, the fashion, the vibe.

Or maybe that's just me being nostalgic for my youth and a time where I had boundless energy and two fully-functioning knees.

In any case, I'm off tonight to recapture some of that youthful optimism and flexibility by seeing three 1990s bands - The Clouds, Jesus Jones and the Wonderstuff - all in one live gig. That's what I'm talking about - long hair, dopey grins and songs about being in art school! Kick out the jams, motherfuckers.

...if you read in tomorrow's papers about a 40-year-old man hospitalised after his knee exploded while attempting to dance, you'll understand why.

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August 16th, 2011

09:29 pm - Reboot to the head
WARNING: This is a VERY long essay/diatribe/waste of electrons about modern superhero comics. If such things do not interest you, I advise staying away.

If you’ve been living under a rock – or, more likely, living a well-adjusted life that doesn’t involve spending a significant chunk of each day reading about superhero comics on the internet – you might not have heard about the biggest news in comics in like a decade.

The DC Universe – the original superhero universe, 75+ years old, the home of Superman and Batman and many other characters I and many others have a deep and in many ways ridiculous attachment to – is being rebooted. Or revamped. Certainly relaunched, with all titles ending and a raft of 52 new titles starting off at #1 next month. Continuity is being rewritten, timelines have been altered; some characters are being dropped from existence, some changed drastically, some changed slightly. Everything is different. Nothing is the same.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because DC did this before in 1985 with Crisis on Infinite Earths, a series that rewrote their then-sprawling, multi-dimensional continuity into one theoretically-cohesive whole, starting some things from scratch and retaining others. (They did some smaller, minor reboots over the following 20 years, but those were basically just continuity maintenance patches with no slate-wiping.) This version of Hitting the Big Reset Button is again aimed at making the DCU more accessible to a younger audience, taking out the perceived weight of decades of continuity, freshening characters to feel more modern and allowing creators to tell stories that haven’t been possible under the existing setting parameters. At least in theory.

It’s a bold move, one pretty much drawn from desperation – DC has been outsold by Marvel for decades, and as the direct comics market sinks slowly into oblivion, DC has been sinking that little bit faster. Sales are down, critical responses to many DC titles have been poor – because too damn many of their comics have been, well, terrible – and any movies and videogames that didn’t revolve around Batman were failures. Without doing something new, and without a major misstep by Marvel, DC is doomed. In that light, a reboot that draws attention and perhaps makes characters more accessible to both readers and media treatment is an understandable tactic.

Predictably, the initial reaction to the news of the reboot was negative. Taking away the characters fans loved, ending the series they read and invalidating the stories they enjoyed? People were understandably troubled, and in many cases hysterically pissed-off. The natural state of the comics fan, after all, is to hate and fear change. The illusion of change, sure, we love that, we’ve been eating that up for decades. But actual change, good or bad, brings the possibility that Superman won't be the way he was when you were 8 years old, and that's scary. The comics interwebs, they got nasty.

For my part, yeah, I wasn't too pleased with the news, and my initial reaction was pretty poor, especially since the drivers of the change had been the same ones guiding DC to the creative nadir it reached in the last decade. Geoff ‘Arm-Pull-Off Boy’ Johns is one of the core architects of the new universe, although he apparently now swears that he wants to focus on humour and comedy rather than literalism, dismemberment and unnecessary exposition. I don’t know that I want to see Johns’ version of comedy; the seven people who saw Green Lantern in cinemas have made that mistake, and look where it got them.

But it's true that the current DC Universe is my generation's universe, a world for readers that came on board during or after Crisis, and that change was also criticised for shaking things up too much and putting the cat amongst the fanboys. There's a lot of good that could potentially come from starting again, with a strong creative vision and the freedom for talented writers to shape new, exciting stories. And hell, for all the attachment I have for the established DCU, it's not like I've been enjoying much of the dark, violent stuff they've been putting out in recent years. So I’ve come around to the idea that rebooting the DC could be a good idea and one that opens it up to a new generation of readers.

This specific reboot, on the other hand, isn’t looking good.

As news has come together through blogs, solicits and unpleasant statements at Comic-Con panels, it's become obvious that this is fundamentally a top-down change thought up and put into effect by DC management and publishing, with minimal preparation and planning, rather than something directed by the creative talent. Press releases have talked at length about revitalising brands and improving upon intellectual property, rather than, you know, publishing good comics. Contradictory statements have piled atop each other – it's a hard reboot, it's a soft reboot, nothing's still in continuity, lots of things are still in continuity, they want to reach a new audience, they want to target 18-35-year-old males. It's a hot mess of muddled ideas and managementspeak, all noise and little signal.

For every promising thing, like a drive for more racially/sexually diverse characters and a move away from decompressed, fits-neatly-into-a-TPB writing, there’s at least one negative sign, like the loss of all but one female creator, the spiky-and-grimacing character designs and the strong-sales-or-GTFO publishing mentality that won't give writers room to develop things organically. For every exciting creator/character pairing (Grant Morrison writing Superman! Cliff Chiang drawing Wonder Woman!), there’s one that’s perplexing (Brian Azzarello, not known for either superhero comics or positive portrayals of women, writing Wonder Woman?) or just downright shithouse (JT Krul and Tony Daniel writing, well, anything).

The push for diversity (more female, LGBT and non-Caucasian heroes) is great in theory, but will likely fall by the wayside in the effort to pander to males 18-35, and in the changeover the only disabled character in the DCU, the wheelchair-bound but very strongly developed Oracle, is somehow transformed into a fully-mobile teenage Batgirl. (Which looks to be a fun comic, since Gail Simone is writing it, but a lot of disabled readers are taking it as a personal affront.)

Some of the principles behind the design of the new DCU are interesting, but other are baffling. The core storytelling conceit is that publicly-visible superheroes (rather than vigilantes, mystery men or secret metahumans) have only been around for five years, Superman being the first of them, and these heroes are younger and less experienced that the old versions. That has potential, but the simplicity is quickly ruined by contradictions and timeline compressions – somehow Batman's had time to train three Robins and father a 10-year-old son in those five years. There's a ruthlessness in trimming away some concepts (no more Justice Society), but an unwillingness to let go of other elements - for example, the messy explosion of rainbow Lantern Corps is staying around, despite making no sense to new readers, because existing readers liked it and (let's face it) because it's Geoff Johns' baby. Morrison's Batman Incorporated is also continuing, and I'm less irritated by that because Morrison's Batman stuff is brilliant, but leaving it as is simply makes little sense in this new paradigm. It's all everything-is-changing on one hand, and but-not-these-popular-things on the other, and we're left with a ludicrously overpacked timeline where somehow an as-yet-undefined-but-apparently-large number of established events took place within five years (see last year's breakdown of a compressed 5-year timeline to see how goddamn ridiculous that can be).

There's also the core visual approach of the new DCU, with sweeping character designs developed by a team of artists; they're headed by Jim Lee, and you can tell that because all the concepts look like Image characters from 1997. The lineup for the Johns/Lee Justice League shows both the approach and the cookie-cutter blandness of it. Everyone's costumes are cut from the same cloth, show the same lines and seams; boots and pants are interchangeable, along with body shape, as if the characters had all been built in the DC Universe Online MMO's avatar creator. And yes, everyone appears to be wearing some form of high-tech body armour, including (facepalm) Superman – because everything is getting injected with 'realism', always once of the least interesting, least challenging things to do in an inherently absurd genre. (I also see the visual overhaul as aimed squarely at making the characters easier and more believable to pull off in film/TV; costumes are less complicated, more obviously rigid and shaped plastics rather than embarrassingly old-school leotards.)

It’s reminiscent of nothing so much as mid-90s comics – and more specifically, mid-90s Marvel comics. The machismo, the overblown character and costume designs, the world that distrusts superheroes, the focus on spin-off properties from successful titles, artists replacing writers despite skill or experience… this is very much what Marvel was up to around that time. Hardly surprising, in a way, since Bob Harras, Scott Lobdell and Jim Lee were three of the biggest and most influential players at Marvel at that time, and now they’re heavy hitters at DC.

Contrast to 1990s DC - while hardly perfect and often making major missteps, the company at that time pushed the notion of innovation, of reinvention, of trying new characters and new creators. This was when Vertigo was launched, when mini-series allowed new characters to get a trial run, when Grant Morrison became the golden-haired boy of clever comics despite not actually having any hair. 90s DC was Sandman and Starman, Kyle Rayner and Connor Hawke, the Big Seven JLA and the Invisibles. Yes, there were shoulderpads and spiky bits (especially once Image Comics took off), and there were plenty of bad comics being produced, but the good ones tried to do something different and often succeeded, while Marvel ventured outside tried-and-true formulas only rarely and quickly aborted any experiment that didn't immediately pay off. Going back to a 90s DC mentality could have some interesting benefits; going back to 90s Marvel (and its first-wave-Image spinoff) is just saddening.

Speaking of Morrison, I’m reading his book Supergods at the moment (which is a post for another time, once I finish and internalise it), and one of his theses is that superhero comics have always reflected (and reacted to) the zeitgeist, not just in the obvious ways but also in a broader thematic subtext. I’ve yet to reach the chapters on 2000s comics, but it seems to me that in the wake of 9/11 (it changed everything), both DC and Marvel changed in tone and story direction, both trying to respond to a time when clear-cut heroism and fun adventure seemed not just inadequate but almost risible.

For Marvel, this has led to stories about mistrust and desperation, about disasters and setbacks for heroes, for blurring the line between hero and villain and in pitting individual heroes against institutionalised enemies. And yet, while heroes sometimes lost their way, they came back in the end to realise what was right and did their best to make it so. While over at DC, in the hands of Johns and colleagues like Brad Meltzer and James Robinson, heroism became so morally confused as to be ludicrous. Compromise trumped idealism, heroes tortured and mind-wiped villains, mutilation and despair were the costs of action and every victory led to a dozen more defeats. Marvel was America defiant and prepared to die for what was right; DC was America frightened and confused, willing to sacrifice its principles to feel safe again.

…okay, I could be reading too much into this. Morrison has that effect on me. But if any of that is true, what subtext can be read into this new universe, this new paradigm, this new mentality? Many of the 52 new titles focus not just on action but out-and-out violence; heroes are mistrusted by the people they protect; bloody-handed antiheroes and professional soldiers get their own books; secret heroes work for the authorities rather than publicly standing up against the institutions of control. It all speaks to a kind of shame in liking superheroes in the first place, of aging fans creating something that justifies their own conflicted feelings about still enjoying this stuff. (And, again, setting up a framework that's easier to communicate and compartmentalise for movies and TV shows.)

Sigh. Goddamnit. I've spent more than 2000 words going on about this, and I don't really know why or what I hope to accomplish, other than getting this nerdrage off my chest. It's all happening in a few weeks, and nothing's going to change it; the DCU will succeed and fail on its own merits. Something that's been a cornerstone of my life since I was a child is going away, and I'm going to miss it, and I need to tell the internet all about my impotent rage. I'm no better than Harry Knowles.

In the end, only one thing matters. Is it going to work? Hell if I know. Despite all my nerd un drang, I want it to – I want pretty much anyone with a pulse to read about Batman every goddamn day, because good superhero comics are a wonderful thing. I would love nothing more than this relaunch to give DC the commercial and critical boost it needs and to start an era of great comics and successful, fun media spin-offs. For all my ranting, I'm going to read the shit out of some of these books (at least once they come out in trade). There are some terrific writers and artists involved, the concept of a clean slate is drawing in some readers, and a continuity that speaks to a new generation would be a good thing, especially if it can still speak to aging fanboys like me at the same time.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Not unless that's my secret superpower in the new continuity. And goddamnit, I was hoping for super-ventriloquism.

(16 comments | Leave a comment)

August 7th, 2011

03:17 pm - Back again
So what did you guys do during the Third (I think) Great LJ DDOS Outage of 2011?

I saw some movies (Captain America and Hanna, both good), read a lot of comics, posted some stuff on PODcom, failed to donate platelets (the needle went in funny), edited a bunch of manuscripts and page proofs, wrote some flash fiction, got annoyed at myself for drinking too much and generally got on with life. At first I tried to log into LJ every day, but soon forgot about it, and the first sign I had that things were back online was when I started getting notifications of spam comments on old posts again. Yay.

In previous years, LJ outages disrupted my life to a major degree, as they meant that I lost contact with a large number of people from around the world for long periods of time. Now they're little more than a blip, and the silence they leave is drowned out in the white noise of Twitter, Facebook, Google + and all the other social media platforms we use. Which is a shame, because LJ has been good to me in the past, and is apparently very important to the bloggers and activists (and spammers) of Russia. But it's becoming increasingly quieter and increasingly non-essential, and personal/fun blogging is taking a backseat to writing and professional blogging, and if anything I was relieved more than annoyed to leave it alone for a few weeks.

I'm not quitting. I think I'll be here for a while yet. But the writing is on the wall, whether one jumps or is pushed by external forces (i.e. Russian-government-sponsored hackers shutting down online protest through orchestrated DDOS attacks, if one believes the rumours). As a precaution, I've made a backup of all my entries using LJbook.com, which has created a 3700-plus page PDF containing all my deathless prose, political rants and regurgitated song lyrics.

Nothing fades away any more; it just gets archived.

Hmm. This is making me more melancholy than I thought. Not great for a Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, I'm still here. Just a bit quieter than usual.

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

July 23rd, 2011

11:37 am
This week marks 15 years since emrhyck moved to Australia from the USA.

Little did she realise that a decade and a half later, she'd be getting married to me. And nor, back in 1996, did I realise that I'd be getting married to an awesome American girl full of life and fire and brains and sass in 2011.

You rock, baby. Melbourne is the better for you being here, and so am I. 

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July 21st, 2011

08:49 pm - Drink drink drink, drink until you're drunk
Yeah, look, I know it's been like 4-5 days since the last post, but come on, that thing was epic.

Still, I need to post more regularly, even if I don't get back to my daily habits. The trick is coming up with things to say.

Fortunately, a solution presents itself - ripping off the ideas of others! neonfaerie wrote a post yesterday about her favourite bars in Melbourne (which in turn was inspired by someone else), and that's such a good idea that I feel the urge to follow suit. Because a good bar is hard to find and needs to be supported.

So, my top five Melbourne watering holes

The Kelvin

One of the first bars I ever visited in Melbourne, and the one I keep coming back to time and again. In part that's because it's also one of the closest to where I live/lived, but it's also because it's just great. Dim lights, comfy chairs, roaring fire, bar staff that don't mind the occasional chat, Scrabble and Connect Four on the bookshelf, and a crowd that rarely gets too big to be manageable. They have Mountain Goat, a surprisingly robust bourbon collection, and an exceptional cocktail menu that includes an extremely drinkable Old Fashioned.

Bar Nancy

And if the Kelvin's full, or the crowd's too loud, or if we want to eat something or hear some music, let's just go across the street to the Nancy. I know that makes it sound like the #2 choice, and to be fair it probably is, but it's a great bar that, through dint of not being quite so popular, is a bit easier to hang out in of a Saturday night or to book a catered function at. The owners are friendly and approachable, the vibe is laid back, the bar selection is entirely reasonable and they have naked ladies in their wallpaper. But it's Northcote, so the ladies are there for the ladies, and that makes it okay.

The Northcote Social Club

Yes, yes, you're right, I'm just a pathetic fucking hipster, putting on my skinny jeans to drink ironic Coopers at the Social Club and catch the Bedroom Philosopher's set. You know why people go here? Because it's a good pub with a decent kitchen and plenty of room on the back deck to drink, eat and hang out. Yes, it's full of hipsters on a Saturday night, but everywhere this side of the Yarra is full of hipsters on a Saturday night. Deal with it.
They have beer. And it's deluxe. Don't you get it?
Well, okay, they're not all that deluxe, but they do have a bloody lovely beer menu, that includes things like Sam Adams, Stone & Wood, a whole pile of Belgians if you're into that sort of thing and more. And they're located at the bottom of ACMI, which is nice and central and has that kind of bouncy castle entrance that small children and large drunks occasionally take a run at.

Bimbo Deluxe

Honestly, I don't love this bar. It's messy, it's up itself, it's usually too loud to think and it's just stuffed full of twats on a weekend. But during the week they have very cheap pizza, and the view of the sky from the rooftop beer garden can be lovely, and they have a good set of beers on tap. So it's worth the occasional visit on a Wednesday night with friends.
 Those are my top five, although that last one is subject to change. What are yours?

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July 17th, 2011

03:02 pm - He throws his mighty shield
Recently I've been re-reading Ed Brubaker's run on Captain America, from his kick-off with the 'Winter Soldier' storyline through the death of Steve Rogers up to his return in Captain America Reborn. So let's talk for a bit about how good these comics are. Because seriously, guys, these are fucking great comics, and I know how surprising it is to apply that positivity to Captain America, a character stuck in weak-writing limbo for many, many years.
(There are spoilers in here, although they're for comics that are like 2-5 years old, so I'm not that concerned with blocking them. If you don't know what the deal is, Captain America's old WWII sidekick Bucky returned from the dead as a bad guy, became a good guy, and took over as Cap when Steve Rogers was assassinated - except he wasn't assassinated after all, and he came back, and the bad guys got kicked in the face.)

What I find most interesting about Brubaker's run is his use of understatement and the way he embeds his superhero pulp adventure in a recognizable human context. Yes, these are comics about a man in a flag costume fighting evil, but it's a human evil doing things in an understandable, believable way. The Red Skull (the main villain of the sequence) isn't aiming a death ray at the President from the Moon, he's trying to destabilise the United States through a mix of terrorism and economic/political manoeuvring. It's a storyline about espionage and intrigue, more than slam-bang action or Morrisonesque mad ideas, and it keeps the story on a a scale where a small group of costumed science-terrorists, or a costumed sociopath with a gun, can be a credible threat to a pair of low-powered superheroes, even with the backing of SHIELD and their agents & equipment. It's not 'realistic', no, but it is grounded in a way that few superhero stories are.
And yet, this is unabashedly a superhero story where people in silly costumes fight outlandish shit to save the day. There's a giant robot attacking London, an evil scientist creating a spontaneous combustion virus, a cyborg assassin and a Cosmic Cube and time machines and all of that crazy stuff. Hell, Brubaker's Cap is more superhuman than he's ever been - he doesn't feel fatigue, runs 60 mph and dodges bullets because he sees and reacts faster than a normal human. But the grounding puts all of that flash and colour into a frame that lets it make sense to both the characters and the reader, both of whom can go 'time bullets? WTF?' and then make sense of it.

One interesting technique that Brubaker uses is that he tends to put the action scenes in the middle of each chapter (single issue), then end the chapter with character interaction and drama. This means that chapters tend to end in a low-key fashion, often at the end of a conversation or with a single panel of internal monologue, rather than the standard action cliffhanger. You would think that that would reduce the energy of the narrative between chapters, but instead it heightens it - there's an implicit tension of unfinished business that builds between chapters, and in comparison the freeze-frame tension of a physical cliffhanger peaks too early and drains away during the bridge. It's a really strong approach, that's not used in every chapter but in enough for it to make a big difference.
The understated, grounded approach applies to the artwork too. Steve Epting is the primary artist for the run, and his work is solidly realistic. Characters have normal (if slightly idealised) human physiques and movement, scenes have well-detailed backgrounds, and the action sequences show realistic movements and don't rely on splash pages. He's also very good at portraying costumes as actual clothing with folds, wrinkles and treads on the boots - and while I generally agree with artist Phil Jimenez that the point of superhero costumes is that you get to draw impossible outfits for impossible people, here the sense of weight and heft works because it brings things down to earth. Even his sound effects contribute - instead of massive Simonsonesque WAKOOMs and KAPOWs, the effects are often rendered in small fonts or shunted off to the side of panels, letting the action speak for itself and normalising the visceral scale of things.

Which is not to say it's perfect. There are too many scenes dealing with backstory (something I've been railing against at PODcom lately), and they take away the energy of the narrative. Okay, yes, you have a character back from the dead and changed, and that needs to be justified, but we don't need so many flashbacks to tell us that Captain America and Bucky, two superheroes who fought Nazis in WWII, were superheroes who fought Nazis in WWII. Some of the plot threads either get forgotten along the way (like a suggestion that Cap's memories were being altered in some way), or don't get resolved satisfactorily within this storyline (like the return of a Cap impersonator from the 1950s). While Epting is a terrific match for the tone, and occasional pitch-hitter Mike Perkins very close in style, later artists Luke Ross and Jackson Guice aren't as good a fit. Both are decent artists, but Ross' work isn't his best, and while I really like Guice as an artist, his sketchier, splashier, less-detailed work jars with the grounded style that Epting produced for earlier chapters. And man, Alex Ross' design for the new Captain America costume is just god-awful.

The biggest issue I have, though, is with the ending of this whole sequence with Captain America Reborn, a storyline that feels both rushed and out-of-place with the greater narrative. Brubaker changes gears here to produce what is really a more traditional superhero story, and that gels awkwardly with the 50-odd chapters of story that have gone before. It's not that a 100-foot-tall robot Red Skull or an army of mini-MODOKs fighting the Avengers aren't cool ideas, but they lack that (I'm gonna say it again) grounding that went before. Ditto Bryan Hitch's artwork, which suits over-the-top superheroics just fine but is totally opposite to what's gone before - and is frankly uneven, with some panels looking like they've rushed through inking to meet deadline. Parts of the script also feel that way, with gaps where explanation and justification for events should be - I still don't really understand what happened to Cap and why the villains unstuck him in time, let alone why the Red Skull got so damned big.

But really, despite the negative bits, this is a damn fine run that stands out as one of the landmark superhero narratives of the 2000s. It's terrifically written and has great art, it has energy and intelligence, and while it doesn't end as satisfyingly as I would like, it nonetheless wraps up strongly and (almost) completely while setting the stage for further developments. (Rather negative ones for Bucky, according to what I've read about this year's big crossover story). When I talk about Marvel largely kicking DC's butt over the last 5 years, this is Exhibit #1. Check it out if you haven't already - if you have, reread it to get psyched up for the Captain America movie next month. That looks like it's gonna rock.

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July 14th, 2011

01:25 pm
The home internet, she is no working.

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July 12th, 2011

07:17 pm - The social network network
Google Plus!

I have it!

I'm on it!

I'm unsure what the point of it is!

I mean, okay, I know what the point of it is - it's Facebook but not by Facebook. And that would be a laudable goal for a social media network site in, say, 2005. But right now, it just seems like another set of contacts to track, another place to check on what people are doing, another place to spam about PODcom updates

It has several features that I like, certainly - stronger boundaries between groups of contacts, better privacy controls, more ability to control what posts you see at a given time, less clutter and fewer ads/games/attention-seeking-toys. But at the same time there are weaknesses, like the lack of social event tracking (pretty much the primary thing I use Facebook for) and needing to use single-reader stream posts instead of internal email.

Better? Quite possibly? Necessary? Eh. Can't see it. If this replaced Facebook overnight, it'd be great and a vast improvement. Alongside Facebook, it just seems like too much effort for not enough return, and too much of the same old thing without the change in use and focus that makes something like Twitter completely different and useful.
Am I missing something? Is there a brilliance to what G+ can do that I have yet to realise? If so, let me know. If not - well, fuck it, stick me in your circles anyway, I don't mind.

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July 9th, 2011

03:26 pm
Because this is my low-stress weekend off, I've taken a bit of spare time (okay, about 4-5 hours) catching up on something I've meant to do for ages - updating the Obsidian Portal page and wiki for my Exile Empire campaign.

If you're interested in the game, go have a look - lots of new wiki pages for campaign elements and NPCs, along with art, and exhaustive hyperlinking within the session logs to those elements. Some of it will never be looked at by anyone but me, I know, but I really hope that my players find it interesting and useful, and that it spurs them to adding material themselves and looking for new ways to interact with the campaign toybox.

If you're not interested, just pretend I said something cool and funny and we all laughed. Man, good times, good times.

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July 8th, 2011

07:54 am
Have just risen from a 10-hour sleep, and am now looking forward to a three-day weekend of doing pretty much fuck all. No work, no gaming, no writing (well, maybe a little writing) - just socialising, resting and playing Halo ODST until my eye sockets wither.

I think this will help a lot with cutting my stress levels, or whatever they are. And probably just in time - last night was peppered with dreams about forgetting to write Very Important Things, missing deadlines and generally getting in the shit for things not done. And I have a callous on my finger from a week of repetitively marking up page proofs.

So three days off, from which I will arise like a phoenix. Or Jesus. Or Jesus on fire and covered with feathers. Who, honestly, I think would scare people if he showed up at church.

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July 5th, 2011

10:35 pm - Exile Empire - The Word on the Street
So, having whinged about being stressed and overtired and getting no time to relax, I spent Sunday running D&D for the gang and thus relaxing. And I'm glad I did. If only I could play D&D every day. Which I pretty much did in my very early 20s, come to think of it. Oh, the memories.

Anyway, we got together for a session of investigation, planning and bar brawls, with nary an encounter power in sight. Details behind the cut.

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