Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 22)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai.  Chapter 2, Page 5.
Click here to see the page at full size.

Unfortunately, this is the last page of The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai.  Kevin and I never finished the story.  Well, I wrote the story, but something happened in Kevin's life--I don't remember what--that prevented him from drawing any more of the pages, and I never even considered trying to find another artist. So from the standpoint that this is a story about a samurai looking for a way to defeat an ancient and powerful evil, it remains unfinished.

As a metaphor for today's soldiers, however, I think it works pretty well in its current form.  Here's Hiro, separated from his family and not on the best of terms with them, trying to fight an enemy he barely understands.  It seems obvious that the traditional methods of battle will be useless to him.  He must find work to find another way.  

And in a larger sense, the battle isn't over.  In fact, it's an open question whether it will ever end.

As always, to read the story from the beginning, use the Hiro tag.  Or to read all of the Sunday Comics entries, use the Sunday Comics tag.

Next week, I'll publish some of the rest of this story in script form, so you can see how it would've ended.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Mad Science: The Refs Win!

The New York Times football blog, The Fifth Down, wrote this week that the NFL failed with its lockout of the referees’ union because it undervalued competence in the workplace, and that that’s a failing that’s epidemic in Corporate America.  Personally, I couldn’t agree more.  Corporate America wants to treat its workers like Bill Belichick treats his players—as fully replaceable interchangeable parts.  Because if we define a job strictly in terms of tasks—and therefore required qualifications for those tasks—then we can establish a market rate for those specific qualifications and hire the lowest bidder regardless of quality.  Running a business then becomes a question of putting in place the right procedures and business model rather than finding and managing the right mix of talented people. 

Ed Hochuli is by far the most famous NFL referee.
This is a file picture from Wikipedia.
Which is fine if you’re an HR professional in charge of minimizing payroll and explaining your hiring practices to your legal department.  It’s a little tougher if you’re an actual manager in charge of getting the job done regardless of the unexpected challenges experienced in the real workplace. 

In the real world, I’ve found that it’s nice to have a few smart people who can do things beyond what their resumes advertise.

Maybe it’s just me, but I see a nearly direct link from the flawed philosophy that argues that we can replace talented and experienced referees adjudicating a byzantine billion dollar sports empire with nobodies off the street and the fact that right now we’re seeing riots in factories in China.  In both cases, what’s missing is value for talent.  Because right now, it seems like the whole world wants to shift its entire industrial base to China because, bottom line, there are a billion Chinese, and half of them would like to do literally anything so long as it’ll get ‘em out of the rural subsistence farming Hell that’s been their only choice for the last umpteen generations.  And that’s fine.  The riots, however, prove that even heretofore subsistence farmers can only be pushed so far, and after that, even they no longer want to be exploited, and that’s despite the obvious fact that they didn’t appreciate the nature of the exploitation when they signed up for it in the first place—back when all they wanted was a one-way ticket out of the rice paddy.

I should say also that, having lived in rural Korea, I can appreciate why folks would want to leave that lifestyle for virtually anything.  That looked like a brutal, back-breaking lifestyle, believe me.

With all of that said, I’m not sure what there is to be done about this.  I mean, I recognize that even folks in other countries have a right to try to make the best living that they can, and I’m not trying to take that away from them.  I am especially not arguing in favor of the Foxconn approach, which appears to involve hiring riot police in order to force their laborers back to work by any means necessary. 

I will, however, say that I was pleased to see the NFL’s ref’s win.  It makes me happy when talent triumphs over the industrial theory of interchangeability, and it makes me think that somehow, there will always be a market for smart people, even if sometimes it takes awhile for the HR departments of the world to realize exactly what the real value of those few smart people really ought to be.

The NYT also had an article this week that I think explains everything about the current election, saying:

“Mr. Obama has widened his lead over Mr. Romney and is outperforming him on nearly every major campaign issue, even though about half [the electorate] said they were disappointed in Mr. Obama’s presidency.”

I can’t speak for the electorate, but personally, I know that that’s exactly how I feel.  I don’t love the President by any means nor am I overly enthusiastic about very many aspects of his presidency.  But given the alternative, he looks like the clearly superior choice.  I continue to wish that the GOP had nominated John Huntsman, but they didn’t, and as I wrote last week, given the current debacle, we at least have the silver lining of a forthcoming debate about the future of the Republican party.  That’s a debate to which I’m looking forward.

If you’re wondering, Vegas currently has the odds at 4-to-1 in favor of the President winning re-election.

I never got a chance to go see the new Dredd 3D last weekend, and given that the film made only $6.3M at the box office, I’m guessing now that I never will. 

Question: When was the last time a movie with decent buzz opened that poorly?


It’s a relentlessly positive article, but they talk a little about how the company got itself into bankruptcy and how Avi Arad managed to turn them around by successfully licensing some of their more popular properties, specifically the X-Men and Spider-Man, out to film studios, who in turn made the properties into decent films.  Honestly, the only thing I thought that the Slate piece missed was the perception of the company after immediately Avi Arad left.  Which is to say that Arad was the guy at Marvel who had all the connections in Hollywood, and there was thought that he personally—with those connections—was more profitable than was Marvel as a company. 

Arad left at about the same time that Marvel was establishing its revolving line of credit and going into the business of making movies for itself, and at the time that move was justifiably perceived as a huge risk.  At that point, the company had already licensed out Spider-Man and the X-Men, and those movies were done and out there.  Meanwhile, Daredevil flopped, the Fantastic Four underwhelmed, and the Hulk was made twice—including once with obvious A-List actor Edward Norton—and no one seemed to know quite what to think about it.  Meanwhile, Captain America was the only obvious Name Brand still in Marvel’s stable, and while that was promising, it was maybe not quite promising enough.  On top of that, folks wondered in general just how much further this whole comic book movie thing could possibly go.  I mean, there has to be an oversaturation point out there somewhere, no?

Regardless, I remember clearly that when Arad left Marvel, the company’s stock price dropped like a stone.  I remember that because I wrote about in Friday Mad Science, back when this column was hosted onPaperbackReader

If you’re wondering, I said at the time that I thought Marvel was an obvious buy.

With that said, it’s also true that although I like Iron Man as much as the next guy—in fact, Iron Man #200 is my favorite single issue comic of all time—I remember being both surprised and skeptical when I heard that his movie was the first one that Marvel was gonna do on its own dime.   Surprised because Iron Man had always been a B-Lister in the Marvel Universe back when I was growing up.  Skeptical because, I mean, come on, “no flights, no tights” is a mantra in live action superhero storytelling for a reason.  Iron Man looked to fly right in the face of the prevailing thought, no pun intended.

Iron Man #200 formed the basis for the last
act of the first Iron Man movie.
Anyway, we all know what happened, so I’m not gonna bother re-hashing it any more.  I’ll just say that it wasn’t a no-brainer like folks want to pretend it was now.  Marvel’s success took guts, brains, and talent, and I hope that it shows once and for all that if you want something done right, really, you need to hire the best guy (or girl) to do the job and then make sure that it gets done the right way. 

Truth is, there’s no substitute for talent, execution, and dedication to craft.  Corporate America can pretend that there is, but all they’re really doing is settling for less for less than optimal results.

‘Nuff said.

Friday Hair Metal: Let It Be

Hannah just started taking voice lessons, and one of the songs she's working on for her first recital is Let It Be.  I suggested it because her teacher wanted song where the singer was the focus of the song more is typically the case in a lot of the bubblegum pop that is normally the centerpiece of Hannah's listening experiences.

She ought to rock this song if she works at it.

On a side note, that's got to be the most beautiful crowd I've ever seen.  Where is that, Rio?  Good God, wherever it is, it's where supermodels grow on trees.

Finally, gonna have to try to Friday Mad Science up tonight.  As usual this month, it's not ready right now.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Top Ten Forgotten Realms Novels (Part 1)

Forgotten Realms novels are by far and away my favorite vice.  For me, they’re like salty potato chips.  Even when they’re good, they’re not really good for you, but... once you get started, they’re awfully hard to put down.  

D&D has been on my mind this week because I just finished reading R.A. Salvatore’s newest Realms novel Charon’s Claw (reviewed here) and because with the advent of D&D Next, I’ve been considering how I’m gonna start teaching the game to my kids.  My friend Keith and I discussed this a bit at one of the neighborhood birthday parties over the weekend, so this family D&D project is slowly starting to come into focus.  Bottom line, this thing is looking like it’s really gonna happen.

With that in mind, and because I've done nothing but D&D on this site all week, I figured now might be the time to count down my favorite ten Forgotten Realms novels.  I was gonna do the top five, but as I started putting the list together, I came out with ten.  And since ten is a nice round number, that’s what we’ve got.

Here we go!
Danno’s Top Ten Forgotten Realms Novels (Part 1)

10.  Streams of Silver by R.A. Salvatore. 

Streams of Silver is Salvatore’s second Realms novel and the second of the Icewind Dale Trilogy, though it works fine as a standalone story.  It follows the dark elf ranger Drizzt, the dwarf king Bruneor Battlehammer, and their soon-to-be-famous Companions of the Hall as they seek Mithral Hall, the fabled clan home of the Battlehammer dwarves.  It also introduces the City of Luskan, the Hosttower of the Arcane, and the assassin Artemis Entreri, all of which become foundational structures in the Realms universe. 
I like this book primarily because it’s a quest book in the best, most D&D-centric idea of the genre.  Not only is it a riot of a read, it’s also kind of the ur-ideal of what Forgotten Realms party-based fiction is supposed to be.

9.  Swordmage by Richard Baker.

The concept of the swordmage (or spellsword or bladesinger) is not a new one in fantasy fiction.  However, Swordmage as a class was new to D&D in the Fourth Edition, and without much source material behind it, Richard Baker, one of D&D’s designers at the time, wrote the novel Swordmage to sort of explain what the class was and how it worked.  What makes the book awesome, though, is the fact that its hero Geran is a fallen man.  Like Aragon in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Geran is a guy who’s spent a lot of time around elves and who mourns what he’s lost.  Now back home after years of wandering aimlessly, this book explores his life and his little town by the sea in eminently readable fashion.

Swordmage is the first book of the Blades of the Moonsea trilogy.

8.  Circle of Skulls by James P. Davis

Circle of Skulls is the fifth book in the Ed Greenwood Presents: Waterdeep series, but it’s a standalone novel that exists entirely independently of the rest of the Waterdeep books.  I liked it because it was kind of a supernatural crime thriller set in the Realms’ version of New York.  It’s also wild as all get out.  The hero is a perpetually reincarnating angel who’s haunted by an infinity of past lives that he can only just glimpse in memory fragments and the hauntings of dreams.

If you’re curious about this Forgotten Realms thing, but the idea of reading something involving D&D scares you, try Circle of Skulls.  It’s a terrific book, and way different than the genre arch-types more commonly associated with the Realms’ brand.

7.  Hand of the Hunter by Mark Sehestedt

Hand of the Hunter is the second of the Chosen of Nendawen trilogy, and while I liked that trilogy a lot, it was a real toss-up for me as to which book was superior, Hand or the first book in the series, The Fall of Highwatch.  Both have quite a bit going for them, including a strong female protagonist and an interesting and unusual predominant setting, the Realms’ version of Faerie, called the Feywild.  I ultimately decided that I liked Hand of the Hunter better based mostly on the fact that the series’ protagonist Hweilan is a lot more interesting once she starts developing her super-powers.  That said, this trilogy is basically a single story told in three separate books, so if you decide you want to give this one a try, you’re pretty much going to have to start with The Fall of Highwatch.

There’s nothing I can do about that, unfortunately.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

PAX 2012 Acquisitions Inc. D&D Next Game

Every year, the guys from Penny Arcade play Dungeons and Dragons before a live audience at one of the larger gaming conventions, and it's always hilarious.  They then release the game as a podcast, and apparently as a two-part YouTube video as well.

I listened to this podcast yesterday, and it was a riot.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Stone Priest's Wife, Part V: The Tower of Al-Kafiri

The sewer tunnel under the Tower of Al-Kafiri was a dark, compact place with a squishy floor covered in the gods-alone-knew-what.  The air was foul with the inescapable stench of excrement.  Combined with an already wretched headache, it made Alaira feel more miserable than she’s ever imagined possible. 
“You sure you’re all right?” Belle asked. 
Alaira turned and looked up.  “I’m fine!”  It wasn’t true, but Alaira didn’t want to waste time answering her supposed friend’s stupid questions.  Lying in a pitch black sewage pipe covered to her elbows in human waste would tend to put anyone off her game.
“Okay,” Belle said, “Whatever you say.  It’s just that with your hangover and whatnot, I thought maybe...”
Alaira turned and looked Belle in the eye.  “Will you shut up, so I can concentrate?  Picking this lock is harder than it looks.” 
Alaira turned back to the lock and again tried to focus, but it was tough with her headache.  It didn’t help that the sewer slime was making her tools slippery.  She’d had to lie down in the tunnel’s sludge just to reach the lock, which was bolted to the bottom of the metal grating that stood between Alaira and her friends and the Tower of Al-Kafiri above.  Alaira had argued against infiltrating through a two-foot tube filled with human waste for the obvious reasons, but stupid Modor had insisted it would be safer than trying to go in through one of the Tower’s many upper story windows.  Thinking about it did little beyond making Alaira angry.  She took as deep a breath as she dared amidst the tunnel’s stench and tried to relax.  Then she leaned into the grating to try to gain more leverage.  If she could just force her picks a little further into the keyhole… 
“Dammit!” she cried. 
She slipped forward and only barely avoided landing face first in unspeakable muck.  As she fell, the lock let off a loud click.  A small dart flew from the keyhole into the sludge below.  It missed Alaira’s hand by a quarter inch.  Had Alaira not slipped, the dart would have hit her left palm dead center.
Belle reached down and grabbed Alaira by the shoulder.  “That’s it.  You’re done.  I’m going back to go get Modor.”
“No!  I can do it!”
“Do what?  Get yourself killed by a poisoned dart?” Belle said.  “I don’t doubt it.”
Alaira looked up from the sludge.  “Why don’t you try worrying about just yourself for change?  Let me worry about me.”  Unlike Alaira, Belle hadn’t had to actually get down into the muck yet.  She was still clean.
“Come on, Alaira,” Belle said, “Don’t be like that.  I was only trying to--”
“Save it.  Let’s just get this done.  It’s not even noon, and I already need a drink.”
“Wonderful.  Considering how much good last night’s drinking did you, I can’t wait to see what this next round’s gonna do.”  Belle shook her head.  “I told you that you were headed for a heartbreak last night.”
“Did I look lonely to you this morning?”
“Fine.  Have it your way.”  Belle looked towards where they’d left Modor and Xarian further back in the tunnel.  “But if you wanna self-destruct, do it on your own time.  And try not to take the rest of us with you, okay?”
“I told you I’m fine!” Alaira cried.  “Gods!  Weren’t you going to go get Modor or something?”
“Great.  I’ll be right back.” 
Alaira fooled with the lock a bit more while Belle was gone, but after a while, she knew it was pointless.  She wanted to close her eyes and put her head down, but in the nastiness of the sewer main, that was completely out of the question.  Instead she sat up and did her best to clean and put away her lock picks.
A few minutes later, Modor crawled up to where Alaira was sitting.  She looked at him and shook her head.  “I can’t get it.”
“Can’t?  Or don’t want to?”  Modor’s skepticism was obvious.
“Can’t Modor.”  Alaira pointed to the lock.  “Look at this damn thing.  It’s not some cheap City Sanitation Department lock.  This is an expensive piece of equipment.  And it was trapped.”  Alaira pointed up to indicate the people in the Tower above them.  “Those wizards set this here on purpose.  They’ve obviously considered that some idiot might try to break in this way.”
Alaira shook her head angrily.  “I told you this was a mistake.  It’s gods-damned disgusting, too.  Dammit!  I don’t even know why I’m here.”
“You’re here for three crowns and the chance for more,” Modor said, “You’re here because—“
Alaira cut him off.  “Three crowns!  Modor, I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning for three crowns.  No, I’m here because you had to bang somebody else’s hussy and got caught doing it.  Idiot!  I’m here because a War Master wants to feed you your balls!  Now I’m elbow-deep in human shit, and—“
“That’s enough, Alaira.”  Modor put his hand on her shoulder.  Despite herself, she appreciated it.  “No one wanted to have to break in through the toilets, but you know damned well that there’s money to be made here.  But if you really can’t pick the lock…”
“Since we’re already here, do you mind if I take a look?” Xarian asked.  He shimmied past Modor to get a better look. 
It would have been a tight fit under the best of circumstances, but with all of their gear, it was more than tight.  It was impossible.  Though Xarian was nowhere near as large as Modor, he’d carried a huge backpack into the sewers in addition to his blunderbuss.  Meanwhile Modor was enormously tall and wide, a reality made worse by the fact that he’d come dressed in his black half-plate armor, and he’d brought both of his swords.  Fang was bad enough, but Claw, Modor’s massive six-and-a-half foot claymore, made moving in the tunnels nearly impossible for him, even when he was moving alone.  Plus Modor had also brought his tower shield.  Alaira shook her head and backed out of the way.  Xarian’s blunderbuss was bad enough, but she had absolutely no idea how Modor was going to get up a two-foot pipe carrying all that stuff. 
Once Xarian was in position and had had a moment to look things over, Modor asked, “Do you think you can blast it?”
“I doubt it,” Xarian replied.  He frowned.  “Even if I’d brought that much powder, I don’t think the tunnel’s ceiling would survive the concussion.  Plus, the noise would almost certainly alert the Tower.”
“Yeah,” Modor said, “That’s no good.  Even if we could fight our way past all the guards and wizards and whatnot, it still wouldn’t accomplish the mission.  We have to keep this quiet.  Anything that could potentially lead back to the Stone Priest is a non-starter.”
No one said anything for a few moments.  Eventually, Xarian pulled off his pack.  Without a word, he started rummaging around inside, eventually emerging with a thick rubber-stoppered bottle. 
“I haven’t had a chance to try this yet,” he said, “and I have no idea how well it’ll work on iron…”
Modor looked curious but said nothing.  Xarian unstoppered the bottle with obvious care and dripped a few drops of its liquid onto the lock’s heavy iron hasp.  He then replaced the stopper and returned the vial to his pack.
“Now what?” Modor asked.
“Now we wait.”
The next quarter-hour wasn’t pleasant.  Modor didn’t like waiting, but he didn’t have any choice.  He kept glaring at Alaira as if to remind her that it was only because of her failure that they were forced to wait in the first place.  Alaira could tell that Xarian didn’t like waiting, either, but at least he didn’t glare.  He did, however, look manifestly uncomfortable resting on his hands and knees in three-inch-deep sewer slime.  The only group member who didn’t seem overtly hostile was Belle.  But Belle had been acting like a self-righteous bitch since the prior evening, so her presence was hardly reassuring.  Eventually, Alaira turned away from her friends, deciding instead to stare at the wall.  It smelled awful, but at least it wasn’t angry with her. 
Stupid Modor, she thought.
A few more minutes passed.  At last Xarian said, “Okay.  Try it now.”
“Finally!” Modor exclaimed.  He reached for Fang.
“Gods!  Don’t use your sword!” Xarian cried.  He fussed in his pack and emerged with a two-pound hammer and a small crowbar.  These he handed to Modor.  “Here.  Always use the right tools for the job.” 
Modor growled.  Looking more than a little skeptical, he placed the crowbar into the lock’s hasp and held the hammer up to strike.  “Like this?”
Xarian shook his head.  “Just get on with it.”
Modor turned back without replying.  He struck the crowbar.
“God of Fire!” Xarian cursed, “Not like that.  Put some ass into it.”
Modor glared, but Xarian returned his gaze without flinching.  After a moment, Modor turned back to the lock.  He raised the hammer and then dropped it thunderously onto the crowbar.  The hasp shattered.
“Finally!” Xarian said, making fun of Modor’s earlier exasperation.  He pushed past and opened the gate, and then he held it open with a flourish.  “After you.”
* * *
Modor led the way up into the shitter.  It was a more than tight squeeze through the foulest space imaginable, but it was the best—and according to War Master Orisis, the only—way to get into the Tower undetected.  Modor tried not to think about what else was in the little tunnel with him.  And he tried not to breath. 
The stench was the worst of it.  Thankfully, there were few actual objects blocking his ascent, but that didn’t change the fact that Modor was crawling through others’ fecal matter.  The connecting pipe was just over a dozen feet long, gently sloping from the main sewer line up to a larger space with three holes cut in the ceiling.  Those three holes were the actual toilets, Modor realized. 
The collective space under the toilets was made of stone and had rungs set into the walls.  Modor used these rungs to pull himself up out of the pipe, avoiding the worst of the toilet pit’s foulness.  He didn’t hesitate but instead instantly stuck his head up through one of the toilet’s seats.
* * *
Khalid hadn’t had a good morning.  He’d had a fight with Safir, his second wife, who was a beautiful woman but who was also a constant pain in his ass.  Then he’d overslept and been late for work, causing his captain to yell at him.  And then the wizard Zafa had gotten angry about something that Khalid still didn’t understand.  Still, as Khalid headed for the basement toilets, his mood improved.  He grabbed the handle for the toilet’s door thinking, At last I can have some peace and privacy.  Every man is a king when he sits upon the universal throne.
Khalid entered the toilet and closed the door behind him.  Then he turned.  He froze.  His mouth fell open. 
A monster was climbing out of the toilet!
The monster reached for him.  It grabbed his shirt and began to pull him closer.  Khalid watched helplessly.  He tried to scream, but his voice failed him.  The monster snarled.
At last Khalid screamed.
* * *
“Gods dammit, shut up!” Modor yelled.  He slammed the man’s head into the stone and then pulled himself up and all the way out of the toilet itself.  The man dropped to his knees and then fell over onto his side, out cold.
“Think you could make some more noise next time?” Alaira asked.  She climbed out of the next toilet over.  “I’m not sure they heard you up on the roof.”
Alaira looked like Hell.  She’d managed to keep her face mostly clean, but her hair and her clothes were streaked through with a muck that Modor didn’t want to contemplate. 
“You need a bath,” he said.  “There’s supposed to be a bathhouse down here somewhere.  If we can keep it quite—“
A voice outside the door interrupted Modor’s thought.  “Is everything all right in there?” it asked.  The door opened, and a man stuck his head in.  Like the man Modor had assaulted, he had a beard and was wearing robes.  “What the Hell?”
Alaira’s dagger answered, slamming into the wall next to the man’s head.  The man disappeared instantly.  The door slammed behind him. 
“Move dammit!” Alaira said as she shoved past Modor.  “If he gets away, the whole place’ll know we’re here!  Then this’ll all be for nothing!”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Book Review: Charon's Claw

I finally finished reading R.A. Salvatore's latest novel, Charon's Claw, the third and final of the Forgotten Realms' Neverwinter trilogy.

Charon's Claw by R.A. Salvatore.
The Neverwinter trilogy is Salvatore's contribution to the Forgotten Realms, post-Spellplague.  Salvatore has been around for awhile.  Drizzt, the hero of this particular series, is a renegade dark elf Ranger and one of the foundational characters of the modern Forgotten Realms.  Moreover, Salvatore in general is one of the architects of the story behind what Dungeons and Dragons has become since the early 1990's, and it's his work that has defined the smaller, more party-based approach to fiction that the company has pursued with its novels since his first novels came out way back in the day.  I personally discovered Salvatore's work at West Point when, as a Cow (Junior) squad leader, I borrowed Starless Night from one of my Yearlings (Sophomores).  I really, really liked Starless Night, and in the years since then, I've read all of Salvatore's D&D novels.  At this point, they're my favorite vice.

The thing I like about this book is that it, like a lot of Salvatore's novels, is mostly about characters.  In this one in particular, Assassin Artemis Entreri is bound to the evil Netherese sword Charon's Claw, and in order to win his freedom, he and his companions, Drizzt and Dahlia, an elf Fighter, must hurl the sword into the maw of a chained Fire God, thus destroying the sword... and presumably Entreri along with it.  And yes, I know what you're thinking, and you're right.  That is a plot that's borrowed from Tolkien.  Obviously.  That said, considering how much of the rest of the stuff in the Forgotten Realms is also borrowed from Tolkien, I think we can all this particular occurrence more of an homage to its source material rather than a simple re-purposing of an extant idea.

The other thing that I liked about this book--and about the series as a whole and Salvatore's writing in general--is that the book itself is a stand-alone story.  I mean, I don't know if I necessarily think that Charon's Claw is the logical end to the Neverwinter trilogy, considering that Salvatore uses the book to introduce a raft of new characters, several new plot threads, and even an entirely new house of drow , but really...  Who cares?  In many ways, Salvatore's writing has become similar to what we see from writers in comic books and/or sequential fiction in that he's always working to set up the next story arc, but that's not a bad thing.  Salvatore is already under contract with Wizards of the Coast (WotC) to write more books about these characters, so yeah, what we have here is as much a bridge to the future as it is a close to the current chapter, but then again, it ends with a Hell of a bang, and it left me hungry for more, so I'm good with it.

With all of that said, a couple of things annoyed me here.  First and foremost is that Salvatore's particular writing style--his voice--has become more pronounced over the years, and that's not a good thing.  All the damned adverbs and verbosity of style in the middle of the action sequences, that stuff I could easily live without.  And then, too, this book opens well, and it closes very, very nicely, but I thought the middle kind of lagged.  Neither of these things is a killer, especially I would imagine for Salvatore's fans, but if this is your first Drizzt book, I can well imagine you wondering what the fuss was about.

Drizzt and Artemis Entreri fight on the cover of Starless Night.  This was my
first Drizzt book, and it remains one of my favorites.
Or maybe not.  Good FR books are hard to find, after all.

Anyway, I've enjoyed the Neverwinter trilogy in general, and I liked Charon's Claw in particular.  I don't know that it's quite as sharp as Gauntlgrym, the first book in this series, was, but it's a load of fun, and that's great.  I will recommend this book highly to fans of Salvatore, especially lapsed fans who got frustrated back during The Paths of Darkness.  If you're new to the Forgotten Realms and curious, I'll recommend the work of R.A. Salvatore, but don't start with Charon's Claw or even Gauntlgrym.  Start with either The Crystal Shard or The Legacy.  And get ready to read.

Link to this review on

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More RPG Test Results: Spellsword!

Because I haven't taken enough of these today.  Plus, I mean, I think the Necromancer result (below) was a little extreme.

You ask me, this one was a little more accurate than the last one.

'Course, I prefer the term Swordmage.  But still...

Your result for The RPG Class Test:


52% Combativeness, 37% Sneakiness, 82% Intellect, 36% Spirituality
Aggressive, but with the brains to back it up: You are a Spellsword!

Score! You have a prestige class. A prestige class can only be taken after you've fulfilled certain requirements. This may mean that you're an exceptionally talented person, but it probably doesn't.
Spellswords combine arcane might with combat know-how. They're much tougher than mages, like to wear armor, and can cast spells through their weapons. They're very, very, good at doing lots of damage to a single target very quickly, and while not quite as tough as most fighters, are still pretty hard to kill.

You're both smart and aggressive, which means that you're probably pretty dangerous when pissed off. You also tend to be somewhat straightforward, which is nice, and don't have much use for spirituality or mysticism.


I so wish I had that hair.

The Score Says It All

This screenshot is off of the NFL's official site.
They ran Home Run Throwback!

Wow!  Second quarter.  How much longer can this last?

God, I love football.

RPG Personality Tesy


I love all these crazy Internet surveys.

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 21)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai.  Chapter 2, Page 4.
Click here to see the page at full size.
As always, to read the story from the beginning, use the Hiro tag.  Or to read all of the Sunday Comics entries, use the Sunday Comics tag.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Soccer Emma!

Sleepy Saturday, Random Thoughts

I'm supposed to be at the gym right now.  But I can't find the motivation.  I've been looking; it's just not there.

I've been training pretty hard this offseason, to the point where it's occurred to me that I might actually be over-training considering that it's the offseason.  By the time next Spring rolls around, if I haven't gotten any rest, I'm afraid I might be a burnt and crispy critter.  But I've kind of lost perspective on it.  I can't tell if that thought is legitimate fatigue talking or if it's just laziness because, honestly, who in the world wants to get up at 6:00 am on a Saturday just to head to the gym?

It's a conundrum, I tell you.

On the other hand, this is Connecticut, and as they say, "Winter is coming."
It's tough to be a triathlete with a foot of snow in the streets.  I probably ought to keep training while I can.

Emma has her first soccer game this morning.  It's now 7:00, and her game starts at 8:30.  I'll take some pictures.  Maybe she'll even score a goal!

Holy shit!  ESPN just said the Yankees were 8-1 in their last nine games!  And here I thought we were in the middle of an epic collapse.  Wow.

I don't really follow baseball, but God bless the Yankees.  This is why it's great to be a sports fan in New York.


Army plays Wake Forest today at 12:30.  The game's on the ACC Network, channel 15 on IO digital cable here in Southwest CT.  I'm in high hopes of watching.

If you're wondering, the line opened with Wake Forest at -8.  Since then, it's moved a point to -7, so for whatever reason, folks are putting money on Army.

Personally, I'm not sure I would do that.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Mad Science: Tim Pawlenty Memorial Edition

There’s not much going on in the world that I care about this week.  But there were a couple of things, so here we go.

Tim Pawlenty quit Mitt to pursue his own
personal interests this week.
Republican political strategists are apparently already discussing the causes of Mitt Romney’s loss in the upcoming presidential election and how they’re going to re-shape the Party after the election itself is over.  Granted, it’s not a done deal, but the GOP as a whole has never been fond of Romney, and given the number of mistakes the guy continues to make, folks who care about the future of Conservatism in America are discussing what the future is going to look like in real and concrete terms. 

Hell, even Tim Pawlenty quit this week to take a lobbying job on K Street, and that’s usually political suicide right before an election.  Given that no one’s complaining about it…  I mean, that’s bad, right?

Personally, as you probably know, I’m way past ready to have the discussion about what comes next.  With that in mind, my favorite critique of the campaign this week comes from Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard:

"Has there been a presidential race in modern times featuring two candidates who have done so little over their lifetimes for our country, and who have so little [of] substance to say about the future of our country?"


At this point, Eliot Spitzer argues that Obama and the GOP leadership need to turn their collective attention to the Senate races, and I can’t help but agree, save that I would add the House of Representatives to my to-do list as well if I was in charge of either party.  My personal fear is that the nihilists amongst the House Republicans will make a suicide pact after the election is over and try to force the country off the Fiscal Cliff, killing us all with one bold financial stroke of self-destruction.  And unfortunately, they have the power to do it since all they have to do to see it happen is… nothing

If the Fiscal Cliff is Niagara Falls, we’re already in a barrel headed towards the downturn.  At this point, the no-compromise aspects of last year’s Debt Ceiling debate will kick in automatically if there isn’t some kind of new agreement reached before November, and at this point, nobody’s even talking about it.  Maybe the Bush Tax Cuts will wind up getting extended, but to be honest, I think these guys would really like to put the country in serious jeopardy so that they can try to blame it on Obama.  I also think they’d like to secretly cut Defense spending—a lot—and increase tax revenues, and the Cliff gives them the only feasible cover they’re likely to get to make it happen. 

So, bottom line, I’m not too sanguine about our chances in the short term.  Take that however you will.

This week’s Football Line of the Week?

“I don't believe in any omnipotent power, but I believe in the Carolina Panthers—and shame on me for doing so.”
    -- Carolina Panthers’ fan James Dator on Cat Scratch Fever.

Speaking as a Giants’ fan, I really enjoyed last night’s game.  They looked like they hadn’t missed a beat since last week’s miracle come back against Tampa Bay.

With that said, it’s important to note that I’m also a Titans’ fan, and I know what else is coming this weekend.


Look, Panthers’ fans, it gets worse.  Believe me.

Reviews I’ve seen say Dredd 3D is supposed to be pretty good.  I really hope I get a chance to see it.  I gotta find some place for my girls to sleep over for that to happen, though.  How to gracefully talk them into inviting themselves over to one of their friends' houses tomorrow?
Having said how much I want to see this movie, it'll
probably prove to be worse than last year's Conan.
 And that’s all I’ve got.  Short and sweet, right?

Friday Hair Metal: Something to Believe In

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Really Want One

Introducing the new TRON cycling skinsuit.
Tron Cycling Skinsuit from Podium.  $149.99.
Cool, huh?


Also from Podium.  Same price.

Movie Trailer: An Unexpected Journey

We see trolls and worgs in this trailer, and so I was thinking that might be where this particular movie--the first of three being made from this book--broke off.  But then I remembered that we also see Golum at the end of the trailer, so I guess they're gonn break the movie at the point I said initially was the logical breaking point--when the dwarves emerge from goblin kingdom under the mountain.  That occurs about halfway through the novel, it's a high point in the story, and it ties into the story's end.  So, logical stopping place.

But then...  where are they getting that third movie from?

I've read that these new movies are going to incorporate parts of The Silmarillion--which I've not read--so I suppose that anything is possible.  And then, too, they seem to have added quite a bit to the story, especially in regards to the elves, so...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lately I've Been Reading...

1.  The Founding by Dan Abnett.  The Founding is an omnibus, collecting the first three of Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts books, part of the Warhammer 40K series of genre novels.

Now, I know what you're thinking because I was thinking it, too.  "Ugh.  Warhammer?  Seriously?"  But this book was really, really cool in the way that only dystopian British sci fi can be.  Like a lot of British sci fi writers, Abnett got his start writing for 2000 A.D., and that spirit shows through clearly in The Founding.  So  does the book's paranoia and epic scope.

I loved this book and can't recommend it highly enough.  It was easily the best thing I've read in the last six months or so.

2.  The Massive #1 through #4 by Brian Wood (Dark Horse).  When I started getting back into comics, I mostly started with superhero books because the thing that drove me back to comics in the first place was my kids, and they--especially Emma--massively prefer superhero stories to indies.  That, however, was more than a year ago, and so now I find myself back at the place I was when I left the comics scene in the first place, and that's frustrated with the Big Two publishers, and their Event mentality, and the lack of creativity in superhero comics in general.  So I've started reading more indies (again), one of which was The Massive from Dark Horse.

Long story short: the book is okay.  It hasn't really hooked me yet, and that's bad after four issues, but the art is really good, and you get the idea that Wood is working to something here.  I may stick around a while to find out what that something is.

3.  The Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick.  I'd never read any of Dick's work, but I've liked the very vast majority of the movies that they've made about his stories, so I finally got this one from the library.  If all else failed, I at least wanted to read "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale."

But I found this book disappointing.  In the intro, they talked about Dick's sense of paranoia and his vision of the future, and I'm sure that stuff was cutting edge when he wrote it, but at least for me, it didn't really hold up.  For me, these stories read a little like a cross between Heinlein's Juveniles and the stories of O. Henry.  Which is okay, but all things considered, I preferred the more legitimate paranoia of Gaunt's Ghosts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Stone Priest's Wife, Part IV: Xarian Awakens

Despite having what promised to be a legendary hangover, Xarian woke up happy.  This was because he awoke between two beautiful women.  And though they’d both spent the night with him, they could hardly have been more different in host of other ways.  The girl on his left, for instance, was no conversationalist.  Her fiery red hair, generous curves, and enthusiasm for her work more than made up for it, of course, but still, it was one of the ways in which she was entirely unlike the girl on his right.  Plus, Xarian knew, the girl on his left would leave when it was time for her to go.  This too was not likely to occur with the girl on the right.  For the girl on the left, the whole affair had been nothing more than a job, and one for which she was well qualified.  Reticence, enthusiasm, and professionalism were desirable traits in a working girl, after all.  And after she was gone, Xarian wouldn’t miss the girl on his left.  The girl on his right, however, was a different proposition all together. 
Just looking at her made Xarian smile. 
Xarian hadn’t expected his night to end so well when it had begun.  He had, in fact, been deep into his cups when Belle had found him at the Gilded Goat.  She’d arrived in a foul mood that might have killed another man’s evening.  Fortunately, Xarian had had little desire for conversation.  The two friends had therefore drunk in a sort of mutually acceptable silence that others might have found off-putting.  And both had been surprised when Alaira had showed up later in the night.  Belle had immediately gotten up to greet Alaira, but Alaira hadn’t been interested.  Instead she’d loudly challenged all comers to drink her under the table, finding no shortage of would-be champions.  Xarian couldn’t remember who called it quits first, but he knew that the game itself had endeared Alaira—and by extension the group—to the rest of the bar’s patrons.  He’d soon found himself telling tales of their exploits to any and all who would listen.  Alaira had hung on his arm while a small army of hearty scoundrels listened in rapt attention. 
As the night wore on, Xarian inevitably began thinking seriously about suitable female companionship.  He'd surveyed his audience and decided on the buxom redhead, only to discover that he hadn't the coin to retain her services.  Dismayed, he’d grown quiet again.  However, Alaira had again come to his rescue, getting Xarian to admit what was bothering him and then flatly refusing to allow him to go home disappointed.  After a brief dicker, they'd decided to split the woman’s costs as well as her services and another bottle of whiskey.  Xarian didn’t know what had happened to Belle after that, and he didn’t care.  He’d had Alaira, and Alaira had had the redhead, and as far as he was concerned, it had been a magnificent evening all the way around. 
Xarian enjoyed watching Alaira sleep.  He’d been worried about her when she’d arrived at the Golden Goat, but now she slumbered peacefully.  Whatever had been bothering her, he hoped she’d gotten over it. 
A moment later, Xarian’s door crashed inward.  He sat up in bed just as a bolt of pain exploded behind his eyes.  Xarian’s dreams of staying in bed all day died instantly.
“Wake up!” Modor cried.  “We’ve got a job!”
For a moment, Xarian was dumbfounded.  Modor had lost his mind!  “What the Hell’s the matter with you?” Xarian asked.  Then the pain in his head hit him full force, and he could do little besides cradle his face in his hands.
“Bah!” Modor replied.  “We’ve got work and no time for your bellyaching.” 
Xarian watched in horror as his friend walked towards the bed. 
“Modor no!”  Alaira cried, finally coming to her senses.  But it didn’t matter.  Modor gripped the mattress firmly and smiled like a hungry savage.
But it was too late.  Modor ripped the mattress up into the air, sending Xarian and his ladies flying. 
“Damn it to the Hells!” cried the red-head, awake at last and in a fury.  “What in the Great Blazes?”  She stopped when she saw Modor glaring at her.  “Right, I’ll just collect my things then.” 
“I’m sorry about this,” Xarian said. 
The red-head didn’t reply.  She didn’t even look at him.
Alaira watched her go.  “Gods Modor!  You have an absolute gift for ruining a good thing.” 
Xarian looked at her.  Despite his pique, he couldn’t help smiling. 
Alaira returned his smile with a glare.  “What the Hell are you looking at?”
“Sorry,” he said, “I just—“
“Don’t go gettin’ all funny on me now, Xarian,” Alaira said.  She got to her feet but made no effort to cover herself.  Instead she self-consciously touched the scar on her right cheek.  “Lordy, that’s all I need.”
Xarian sighed.  Alaira could be like that.  She had scars, and not just on the outside.  She’d have your back in a fight, and he’d seen her share herself ten ways in a house of pleasure, but real affection was a difficult issue for her.  He knew, for example, that she’d never have spent the night with him without the redhead’s presence.  She could share a woman and a bottle of whiskey and call it casual, but a moment of honest intimacy was out of the question.  It was a pity.  Xarian could see past the scars to the quality of the woman beneath, but that didn’t matter so long as Alaira herself couldn’t see it.
And as long as Modor's hanging around, Xarian thought.  But he knew that wasn't fair.  Modor hadn’t made even a cursory effort to monopolize Alaira's time.  If anything, Modor pushed Alaira away more often than not, especially since he himself seemed intent on bedding every woman in Brega and a great many beyond its borders.  That Alaira was attracted to Modor was undeniable.  It was equally undeniable that Modor would never be hers.  Not in any sense that truly mattered.
Xarian pushed himself up and walked to his medicine cabinet.  He pulled out two glasses and a small bag of white powder.  The powder, a general health tonic of his own design, wouldn't fix everything, but it would take the edge off of his hangover.  That would have to be enough.
“So what’s this job?” he asked.  He handed Alaira a glass of the tonic and then took a sip from his own.
“Yeah,” Alaira said, “Surely Cindar Belam didn’t hire you, so what’s the deal?”
“No, Belam didn’t hire us” Modor said.  Then he smiled.  “But I did meet his War Master on my way home.”