Archive for June, 2009

30
Jun
09

What I’m Reading: Personal Effects-Dark Art

PEDAOkay, so over the last couple of months, I’ve done a lot of talking about the new  novel by J.C. Hutchins, Personal Effects: Dark Art. This is something I was excited about for several reasons. I’m a fan of Hutchins‘ work, I’m a fan of his work in the new media, and I thought the way this story was being presented was a really clever, exciting thing. And now the book is finally out, so I guess it’s time for me to tell you what I actually thought when I read the thing.

Personal Effects: Dark Art focuses on Zach Taylor, an art therapist at an asylum for the criminally insane. Just coming off a major breakthrough, Taylor is given a particularly challenging new case — Martin Grace, an accused serial killer who claims his crimes were not his own work, but that of a mysterious “Dark Man.” Despite this, is making no effort to defend himself. And to make Zach’s job even harder, the art therapist’s newest patient suffers from psychosomatic blindness. As Zach tries to get to the root of Grace’s demons, he begins to uncover disturbing facts about his own family and his own past, and begins to believe that perhaps the Dark Man isn’t just a product of a lunatic’s imagination.

If you look at this simply as a debut novel, it’s pretty good. Hutchins does a very strong job of developing Zach and the world he inhabits. He gives us enough traces of the supernatural early so that when it becomes a major factor it isn’t a shock to the system. The plot is tight and follows a good, logical progression that builds up to a really exciting climax. If it was just a book, in and of itself, I would definitely give it a thumbs-up.

Here’s the thing, though. Personal Effects: Dark Art isn’t “just” a book. Hutchins’ co-creator for this work is Jordan Weisman, a well-known figure in the field of ARGs (Alternate Reality Games), and what you get here is a product that brilliantly straddles the line between novel and ARG. Along with the story, you get a pocket full of items that relate to the the book — cards, paperwork, legal documents, photographs… all kinds of very realistic extra items that relate back to the story. As you’re reading along, the characters sometimes find the same items that you have in your own possession, allowing you to examine them fully to determine what they’re looking at. Other times, you’re given a clue that reminds you of a name on one of the documents, so again, you go back and look to see what else you’re missing.

That’s not all, though. As you read the book and examine the items, you’re directed towards certain websites — sites that really do exist, and give you even more clues. One of the URLs you uncover sends you to a website about the history of the Taylor family, another to a funeral home visited in the book. And while the sites certainly look as legitimate as the death certificats found along with the book, if you delve into the information there, you can find even more bits and pieces that point towards the truth about what Zach Taylor is encountering. Phone numbers mentioned in the book will lead you to recorded messages. Basically, everything that exists outside of the text itself helps you, the reader, to “play along.” In a way, you almost become Zach Taylor, trying to unravel the disturbing truth about Martin Grace.

This is what I love about a great mystery — not just reading, but that idea of joining in the hunt. A really good book will allow you to match wits with the characters, to try to figure out the truth along with them. Bad mysteries cheat by leaving out crucial details. This book does just the opposite, giving you more ways to immerse yourself into the story than any book I’ve ever read. Even if it was “just” a book, it would be a good one. When you add in the extra stuff, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had reading in a very long time.

29
Jun
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Sixteen: The Family

Chapter Sixteen

The Family

The children had been walking down the yellow brick road for close to an hour when they saw the man approaching in the distance. The sun was still low enough in the sky that he was lit from the back, so they couldn’t really make out any specific details about him. They could tell only that the shape was probably too big, too broad-shouldered to be a woman, and whoever it was was most certainly walking towards them from the direction of Baliwick’s castle.

“Does he see us?” Gail whispered.

“The sun’s in our eyes,” Linda said. “He has to.”

“Should we hide?” said Gene, looking to the empty bushes.

“If he’s seen us it won’t be worth it,” Linda said. “We can’t be sure he’s one of Baliwick’s – remember Emily’s advice. The eyes.”

“He’s too far away to see the eyes,” Gene said. “So we’re going to risk it?”

“I’m not hiding this time,” Linda said. They kept marching.

The man grew closer as both parties worked to reduce the distance between them. As he approached, they could make out more details. He was wearing a black tunic with some sort of silver embroidery on the chest. His arms and legs were wrapped in chain mail – painted black, and the black hilt of a sword protruded from the black scabbard that bounced at his side. Linda shuddered. “Boy, these guys dress cheerful at least, don’t they?”

By now it was clear that the man could see them as well as they saw him, perhaps better, and his hand began to creep for the hilt of the sword. He had shoulder-length brown hair and a thick, knotted beard, and his face was cragged with scars and wrinkles. Linda remembered what Murphy told them, that they would meet a man named Edward who could help them. They were supposed to meet that man at the castle, though. The man that was walking towards them, fondling his weapon, did not inspire confidence in her.

“Ho, there!” he cried, and Gene wished he had a sword of his own at his side.

“Where come ye from?” he shouted, and Gail wished she’d gone home when she had the chance.

“From elsewhere,” Linda said. “Are you Edward?”

Edward?” he shouted. With a raking sound he drew his sword.

“Call it a hunch,” Gene said, “but I don’t think this is Edward.”

The man lunged with the sword, aiming for Linda, in the center, but she easily jumped away, pulling Gail with her to the right. Gene broke for the left and the man’s sword bounced off the yellow brick road. He was moving without the sort of grace Linda would have expected for a swordsman. His attack was clumsy, and he brought the large sword back up slowly, with both hands, as though it were some sort of enormous weight. He turned on Linda and hefted the sword up over his head, charging again. Instead of jumping away this time, Linda went low and hit the man in the legs, toppling him over. He dropped the sword on the way down and another weight hit him from behind – Gene, pressing their advantage. He and Linda worked well together, that was certain.

“Linda, his eyes!” Gail thought. The man jerked his head up, eyes blazing, eyes glowing such an intense orange that they could have used him to light their way through Kane Forest. Orange eyes, Emily said. This man was one of Baliwick’s.

“Lay down your arms and surrender!” the man roared.

“We don’t have arms,” Gene said.

“We do now,” Linda said, picking up the man’s sword. She second she tried to bring it to a defensive position, though, she knew it would be good only for intimidation purposes, and even then she was counting on her adversary’s gullibility. For all the guts she had displayed thus far, surprising even herself, she was still only 12, she had no training with the weapon, and this sword was simply too heavy for her to twirl around in an effective manner. This wasn’t a sword in her hands, it was a weighty length of steel just as likely to cut off her own foot as chop into the man that dropped it.

Baliwick’s man flipped Gene off his back, narrowly missing the sword that Linda was trying to wield. Gene managed to roll with the landing, although there was an unmistakable grunt when his neck jarred into his spine. The man reared back, screaming, relieved of his burden, and Linda could make out the shape of the silver pattern on his chest – it was the empty outline of some sort of lizard-creature with wings, sitting back on its haunches like a dinosaur. No, she was thinking too “normally” — it was a dragon.

“Stay back, Dragon Man,” she said, trying to thrust the sword in his direction.

He snarled at her, then swiftly pulled a long, silver dagger from his belt. “You’re struggling with that, girl,” he hissed. “Bet I can handle this dagger better than you my sword.”

“Are you brave enough to put that to the test?” Linda asked, hoping she sounded more imposing than she felt.

“Gladly!” He punched out with the dagger, showing much more accuracy with the small blade, and Linda considered herself lucky to parry even enough to keep the dagger out of her chest. The fact that it instead went into her left shoulder was slightly consoled by the fact that the sword managed to tear into his arm. There was blood on the blade, but not a torrent, nothing to make her think she’d hit an important blood vessel, and surprisingly that also comforted her.

He was less pleased with his injury than she was. “Ye vicious little brat!” he shouted. He flipped the dagger to his left hand and lunged again, less accurately this time but still very close to Linda, and no one was more surprised than she when he cried out again and dropped the dagger.

“What…” he moaned, turning his wrist over. There was a dart sticking out of it, a long red dart with yellow feathers at the end. He pulled it out and let it fall to the ground, looking around nervously.

“Who… Emily?” he moaned, and then he fell face-first onto the ground.

“Linda! Are you okay?” Gene shouted.

“I’ll be all right,” she said, touching her shoulder and pulling away red-stained fingers. “What happened to him?”

There was a familiar laugh and another rustle of the bushes. Leaves parted and a girl with flame-red hair stepped out, smiling. In her hand she twirled a long tube that was clearly a blowgun.  “I decided ye could at least use an escort to the castle, dears,” Emily said. “Just a dart tipped with the right mixture of barley and herbs. He’ll wake up with a headache, but otherwise unharmed.”

Her smile vanished, though, when she saw the bloodstain on Linda’s shoulder. “Gods, Linda, he got ye!”

“Just a flesh wound,” she said, hoping she was using the term correctly. It hadn’t been entirely clear when she heard it in that Monty Python movie she watched with her father.

Emily pulled up Linda’s sleeve, revealing the wound. “Aye, it’s not too serious,” she said, “but it should still be dressed.”

She took a skin of water that was dangling from her belt and soaked a cloth she had with her. As she dabbed at the wound, Linda said, “Thanks for coming back.”

“I’ve got a soft spot,” Emily admitted. “Not one of my wiser traits, but one that endears me to people. Ye remind me of my brother Linus.”

“Short kid with a blanket?” Gene quipped.

“Eh?”

“Never mind.”

“His eyes are orange,” Linda said. “How did you know?”

“Them with black eyes are Baliwick’s own people,” she said. “Them with orange eyes aren’t in their own mind. They’re doing Baliwick’s bidding, but it isn’t their own will.”

“He said your name when he saw the dart,” Gail said.

“He recognized the feathers. Sort of a trademark of mine.” The wound was clean now, and Emily was wrapping it with a fresh cloth.

“How does he know your trademark?” Linda asked.

“He taught it to me,” Emily said, sparing at glance at the unconscious man on the ground. “He’s my father. Come on, we’ve still got a ways to go.”

She got up and started walking, not looking back to make sure they were following. The three children shared a sorrowful look.

“Geez,” Gene said. “And we think we’ve got it bad.”

Gail shuddered. “I just hope Kevin doesn’t have it worse right now.”

*   *   *

“No thank you, Mrs. Robins, I couldn’t eat any more cookies right now,” Kevin said.

The cookies were wonderful, of course – warm and chewy and with just the right amount of chocolate chips, but the more he ate the thirstier he got, and he’d hate to bother this kind woman for yet another glass of milk, particularly when he had so much studying to do.

Mrs. Robins was the proprietor and head librarian at the Lewiston Public Library, and she was quite happy to see a boy of Kevin’s age come in so early on a Sunday. This was apparently a very lonely time of the week for her, and she’d done everything within her power to be helpful to him, even up to offering him a snack of the cookies she baked every day. If the library in Timberton Parish were like this, Kevin thought, he’d spend more time there than on the baseball diamond.

Kevin had wandered for a very long time after taking his wrong turn in Evertime, and by the time he realized he was hopelessly lost he couldn’t even remember what direction he’d started from anymore. He had contemplated selecting a pool at random, a prospect which was made especially appealing by the raging pain in his leg. It wasn’t getting worse, it wasn’t getting better, but the horrible consistency of it was on the verge of making Kevin surrender and leap into the next pool with an Earth-like tree just to wait it out for a few hours until it began to heal.

At any rate, leaping into a random pool was beginning to look like his only option. He felt as though he had been walking for days (oh, how he wished he had a stopwatch that worked in Evertime) and he didn’t have the slightest idea where he was going or what he was going to do and he was still trapped in that stupid emergency pod force-bubble, wearing the shredded sleeve of the vacuum-suit with several more pods resting in the launcher. It could have been weeks, to his brain, since he’d seen his friends, and absolutely nothing had changed about him, and he couldn’t stand it anymore.

Then it happened – he had perhaps the one piece of certifiable good luck he’d had since he fell into Evertime in the first place. He found a familiar tree. Not the tree home, nor the signpost that marked passage into the Infinity Bar and Grille, where his friends had been waiting for him for nearly an entire second at that point, but the tree with the soft green leaves that marked the pool to Lewiston. It wasn’t home, but the town with the color-changing money and the fire-breathing Dragomanders, the town where they had met Nancy was at least some place he knew. What’s more, if he concentrated he was fairly certain he could remember the path Nancy took to get them to the Infinity last time.

Oh, but that walk. That long, torturous walk. The thought of making it in this bubble, with this screamingly painful knee was more than he could take. He thought about it, subjectively, for about a minute before he made his decision – he would dive into Lewiston, rest up and then go on to the Infinity and hope the others hadn’t just left him there.

That was his plan, at least.

What actually happened was this:

He climbed out of the Evertime pool back into the forest, where he banged at the emergency pod cartridge until it shut off and allowed him to sit down with his back against a tree and rest. “Rest,” unfortunately, turned into “sleep,” and “sleep” did not end until a squirrel chittering in the branches of the tree dropped a nut onto his head, waking him up in enough sun for him to realize he had slept through the entire night.

His first impulse was to jump back into the pool and try desperately to find the others, but he fought that impulse. He wasn’t sure where they’d be by now. If he were them, he’d have left after a few hours and gone on to wherever Benny was to get him back, and unless Gail convinced them to do otherwise, he was certain Gene and Linda would do the same thing.

He also questioned his purpose in the group. What did they need him for? Gene was the smart one, he’d figured that out, and Linda was the leader. He’d hoped he could provide the muscle, the physical skills, but even without his bad leg this was a notion Gail had dispelled. All he’d be good for at this point was dead weight, which was a job Gail had covered quite nicely.

So what could he contribute? What would his presence do except hold them back?

As he thought about this, trying to temper his introspection to keep it from lapsing into self-pity, he decided he was going to do something he never thought he’d do. He was going to take Gail’s advice.

“Don’t quit your day job,” Gail offered in the bowels of the Macana ship. “Read a book or something.”

Well then, that was exactly what he was going to do.

Finding the library was no problem – in a town as quaint and old-fashioned as Lewiston it was the second most ornate building after the town hall – and his only concern was that it may not be open early on a Sunday morning. That fear, as it turned out, was unfounded. He stepped through the doors of the big, red brick building to see a neat desk without all of the computers and scanners and copy machines he had come to expect of libraries on his own world. Seated, practically waiting for him, was a kind woman with glasses and silver hair around a face that had earned each smile-line. She was the sort of lady his grandfather would wink at and flatter at the grocery store when he needed someone to pick out which vegetables were ripe for him. The plate on her desk read “Christina Robins, Head Librarian,” and she’d quickly welcomed him and whisked him off to a reading area full of plush chairs and colorful stuffed animals, the place where children read.

“Are you sure you won’t have anything else, Kevin dear?” she asked as she handed him another book on one of the topics he asked about.

“No thank you, ma’am,” he said, putting aside A Beginner’s Guide to Magic. There were other books waiting for him. Magic and the Martial Arts. Cantrips For Self-Defense. Exomancy For Dummies. He didn’t have time to read them all, he knew that, but he wanted to get as much information out of them as possible.

When he found the others, he suspected, he was going to have a job to do.

*   *   *

The road, one of Benny’s books said, went ever on and on. That was true, Linda realized during their march, but after all of the walking they had done over the past two days, she was quite ready for it to end. They’d already had every conversation they could fathom, and although Linda was burning to interrogate Emily about the brainwashed father they left behind, she kept quiet, not knowing how much she wanted to discuss it. It also probably wasn’t wise to upset the girl with the knockout darts.

So after a futile attempt to spark conversation with a round of 20 Questions, Gene produced a pit from one of the yellow fruits – baumers, Emily called them – and they were playing a game of catch as they walked. They’d gone for ten minutes without dropping the pit, and considering everything that had gone on, Linda found it unusually relaxing.

“How long now?” Gene asked.

Linda glanced at her watch. “Eleven minutes and 13 seconds.” She tossed the pit to Gail, who tossed it to Emily, who was only begrudgingly playing along.

“How long have the three of ye been on this quest?” she asked.

“Two days,” Linda said.

“And it didn’t start out as three of us,” Gail added.

“Ye’ve lost someone?”

“My friend Kevin,” Gene said, tossing the pit to Linda.

“What happened?”

Gail and Gene both looked to Linda. It was her call. They knew that without even saying it. It was up to her to decide how much to tell Emily.

“We were separated from Kevin last night. There were some bad people chasing us and he got lost somehow.”

“Where from?”

“From… elsewhere.”

Emily nodded. “Aye. I’ve met people from… elsewhere… before.”

“You have?”

“Aye.” She caught the pit and tossed it to Gene.

“What about you?” Linda asked. “How long has Baliwick been here in your world?”

It was the first time she referred to “worlds” to Emily, but the older girl let it go without remark. “Months now,” she said. “He drove us out of our homes, those he didn’t enslave, and made the castle. Then he started changing things… painting the houses and the roads.”

“Slave labor from the people he brainwashed?” Gene asked.

“Aye. More than just that, though. He’s cast spells… ensorcelled the castle. There’s some sort off hex that keeps a person from approaching – even the animals have been driven away.”

“That’s why we haven’t seen any birds or bugs or anything,” Gene said.

“And I’ll bet that’s why the kids ran around Baliwick back at the playground,” Gail said.

“Playground?” Emily said.

“Never mind now,” said Linda. “If he’s got a spell on the castle, how do we get away?”

“It’s not impossible to fight off, especially if ye know the hex is in place, but ye will have to concentrate.”

“Have you done it before?” Gene asked.

“No, never all the way in. I’ve been trying to fight him from outside.” Her shoulders drooped. “It hasn’t been easy. We’re growing desperate here, friends. Last night I even…” Emily swallowed loudly and looked around, as though she was making sure no one could overhear her. “I wished on a star for a deliverer.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Linda asked.

“Wrong? It isn’t wrong it’s… why, don’t ye know?”

“We wish upon stars too,” Gail said. She, in fact, did it so often that her wishes blended together. “We do it all the time.”

“All the time!” Emily sounded horrified. “Ye can’t do that!”

“Why not?” asked Gene.

“I can’t believe no one has ever told ye. Stars have power to them, friends. Each only has a limited number of wishes it can grant. No one knows for certain how many, but some say as few as a hundred. When a star runs out, it burns out of the heavens and dies.”

“Your stars are alive?” Gene said.

“Aren’t yours?” she replied. “Ye can’t spend wishes capriciously, friends. It’s too important.”

“Wow,” Linda said.

Linda hadn’t noticed that, as they talked, they were approaching a hut on the side of the road. It was a small place with a rough opening and no door, windows carved out of the clay walls, and a thin ribbon of smoke drifting from the brown, baked chimney.

“We’ll stop here,” Emily said.

“Why? Where are we?”

“Please let it be Yoda, please let it be Yoda,” Gene was mumbling.

“We’re here to get you some supplies, don’t worry.”

“Aw,” Gene said.

“Emily? Is that ye?” shouted a voice from inside.

“It is! And I’ve brought some friends!”

A man then hobbled out of the hut. He was hunched over, but that seemed to come from age. At one time, this man had been a giant. He was extremely old now, wrinkled, and his snow-white hair trailed down his back. He wore a blue tunic and breeches, and a ruby dangled from a silver chain around his neck. He wore a big smile upon his cracked, folded face, and set in his skull were a pair of glowing red eyes.

“Emily, his eyes,” Gail whispered.

“It’s orange eyes ye need to be wary of, Gail. Elmer’s are red.”

“Elmer?” Linda said. “Not Edward?”

“No, not Edward,” Elmer said. “Not yet.”

*   *   *

“Into Baliwick’s keep to save your brother, eh?” Elmer said, shuffling around the little hut. In storybooks, in the movies, it was commonplace to walk into a tiny hovel like this one only to find a spacious, luxurious home within. The exact opposite happened here. If anything, Elmer’s hut was even smaller and more cramped on the inside than Linda would have guessed from the outside. Still, it was big enough to hold the five of them and leave room for Elmer to flit about packing bags and gathering supplies as long as the children kept their legs tucked underneath them.

The mud walls were lined with shelves – books on many of them, but also vials, beakers and jars full of fluids and powders of every conceivable color and variety. One rack held something that looked like cinnamon except for its bizarre habit of glowing red every time Elmer walked past it. Another held a thick, milky blue fluid that Gene would have sworn was looking at him somehow.

“Are you a scientist sir?” he asked. He looked back at the blue fluid. Now he had the impression that it was looking away and whistling innocently.

“Science? Bah. Not in the way ye mean it, son. Nay, I’m a student of the true sciences – herbs and potions and extracts and salves and elixirs. I know how to distill the full potential of every plant in these woods, and a great many that aren’t. I know which toads to use to heal burns caused by hot oil and I know how many drops of baumer juice it takes to clean out an ear infected with mold. I can use dragomander dung to chill a man with heatstroke, and I know what temperature to bake ground eel eggs so they’ll give you strength like in those biscuits ye’re eating now.”

Gene put down the biscuit he had been lifting to his mouth.

“Ye’ve got quite a task in front of ye, ye know,” Elmer said, loading three small packs with blocks of cheese, hard bread and skins of water. “And I know ye’re worried – ye’d be foolish not to be. But fear not, little ones, I have great faith in ye. I always have faith in the – Gene, my lad, what are ye smiling at?”

“Nothing,” Gene said, trying to stifle a chuckle.

“Aye,” Elmer said. “Well then, eat, eat. Ye’ll need your strength.”

Gene reluctantly picked up one of the cold biscuits from the platter Elmer had provided him almost as soon as they walked through the door. Linda was giving him a look.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I hear ‘Elmer,’ I think ‘Fudd’.”

“Eh? What’s that? Fudd?” Elmer said. Gene gulped, but Elmer didn’t appear angry – to the contrary, he smiled. “Ye think Elmer’s hearing is gone in his age, eh? Well, I don’t know what this ‘Fudd’ of yours is, boy, but do ye know what ‘Elmer’ means?”

“Um… I guess not,” Gene admitted.

“It means ‘noble,’ boy! ‘Twas my father’s name, and his father’s name, and his stepson’s name before that!”

Gail was about to ask how that worked, but something told her to keep quiet. Gene, on the other hand, was fighting the urge to comment that Warner Brothers didn’t think that through very well.

“You know Edward?” Linda asked, changing the subject and rescuing her friends from their own tongues. “You mentioned him when we arrived.”

“Know Edward? Aye, I know Edward. Good man, he, longtime friend of the family. He’s in Baliwick’s castle at the moment, subvertin’ it from within.”

“Family?” Gail asked.

“Aye. Once a great one, but now just me and my son Eric and my granddaughter here, and her brothers.” He indicated Emily at the last, and she nodded, munching on a biscuit.

“Oh, your son,” Gail said.

“Aye. I understand ye met him on the road.”

“I guess we did,” Linda said.

“Don’t think poorly of him, friends, isn’t his fault. Eric Tate is a good man, a fine man, but Baliwick’s magic is strong. Here.” He produced a tray with four goblets of some rich, fruity-smelling potion on it, a fifth goblet in his hand. “The biscuits are dry, ye’ll be wanting juice.”

“Thanks,” Gene said, taking a goblet. Gail did the same, but when Elmer turned to Linda, he held the tray back and handed her the goblet from his empty hand.

“Here, lass, drink up,” he said. He took another goblet from the tray for himself and proffered the fifth to Emily. “And besides, ‘tis bad luck to embark upon a quest without a toast to your health!”

“We sort of embarked upon it a long time ago,” Gene said.

“Well then, ‘tis past time! Perhaps this will help your luck to change!” Elmer held his drink out and the others each tapped their own goblets to his. They all sipped, except for Linda, who found it particularly suspicious that Elmer had made it a point of giving her this specific goblet while the others got to choose. It disturbed her, but… well, this man was Emily’s grandfather, and she trusted Emily. She drank. It was cold and sweet, it almost seemed to heal her throat on the way down. It was wonderful.

“Aye, a good toast it was, friends!” Elmer said. “Now, I’ve prepared packs for each of ye. Food, aye, water, aye, but other things as well. Each of ye has a length of rope and a knife – not enough for fightin’, mind ye, but enough to cut yourself out of a trap if need be. A small blanket each and a flint and steel in Linda’s pack.”

“What?” Gail asked.

“To make fire,” Gene explained.

“Yes, the lad knows of what he speaks. Well now, off ye go! ‘Tis almost noon, and if ye expect to make it to the castle by dark, ye need to be on your way!”

“Thanks for everything, sir,” Linda said, feeling a good bit better than she had in quite some time. Getting to eat, getting to rest – these were all good things, and that drink Elmer gave her had a real kick. Her head was clear and she was thinking straight as a line.

“No time to thank me, dearie. Anyway, I’m only doing my job! Ye’ve got the hard work ahead of ye!”

“How comforting,” Gail said.

Elmer shooed his granddaughter and her three new friends out the hut, then, once he was sure they were back on the road, he began to tidy up. He rinsed the four goblets he, Emily, Gail and Gene had used with simple water, but for Linda’s he took out a small vial with purple fluid. He’d need to wash the goblet with this to neutralize the potion she drank. She was probably feeling quite good right now, but that wouldn’t last – soon she’d be woozy, if not outright ill. He was sorry for that, he truly was, but he wouldn’t have given her the potion if he hadn’t seen in her the right person to handle it. Besides, once the ill effects waned, the good effects would begin. And the good effects… oh, the good effects! She would be thanking him for the good effects for the rest of her life.

Next: Chapter Seventeen-The Moat

28
Jun
09

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 125: Convention Season Kick-Off

Chase is out of town, so Blake and Mike sit down this week to talk about the beginning of the comic book convention season! The guys discuss the current state of comic cons, Mike talks about his experiences at last weekend’s Wizard World Philadelphia convention, and the boys bat around some of the announcements from Philly and HeroesCon in Charlotte! In the picks this week, Mike chooses Power Girl #2 and Blake selects Zorro #14, with a bonus book pick, Was Superman a Spy? Contact us with comments, suggestions, “Ask Chase Anything” questions, or anything else at Showcase@Comixtreme.com!

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 125: Convention Season Kick-Off
Inside This Episode:

Plus: Let’s get literary! Chase has work conflicts this week, so Blake gets together with his sister Heather for this special edition of Week in Geek! The sibs discuss the recently concluded Percy Jackson series of novels by Rick Riordan, chat about the currently in-production Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief movie, and dive into the mythology surrounding the new J.C. Hutchins novel, Personal Effects: Dark Art.

Week in Geek #24: Percy Jackson and Personal Effects

Plus: Blake flies solo for this review of the new Todd Phillips comedy The Hangover. When three guys at a bachelor party wake up to find the bachelor missing, hijinks ensue. But is it funny enough to spend your money on?

At the Movies Episode 7: The Hangover

27
Jun
09

Toy Stories: The Many Faces of Bumblebee

I am an old-school TransFormers fan, and I’ve been mostly satisfied with the Michael Bay revamp of the franchise, so it was only a matter of time before I took at look at the toys from that line. Optimus Prime, naturally, has always been my favorite character, but a close second is the ever-popular ex-VW Beetle, Bumblebee, and it’s him that we’re going to look at today.

Gentlemen, start your engines!

Gentlemen, start your engines!

I’ve got three different Bumblebees I’m going to show you today. The first two are from the current film, TransFormers: Revenge of the Fallen, and the third is a retro toy that I got a couple of years ago. The current movie line has several levels of TransFormers based on the size and complexity. The largest toys are “Leader” figures, next largest are “Voyager Class,” third is the “Deluxe Class” — the larger car here is part of that line — then “Scout Class,” and finally “Legend Class,” which is the smaller Camero. Why the “Legends” are the smallest toys, I don’t know. But let’s start with old-school Bumblebee.

Stick me in your pocket

Stick me in your pocket

This chain hurts my shoulder...

This chain hurts my shoulder...

The original Bumblebee was a Volkswagon Beetle, and this clearly isn’t the original toy. This is a keychain replica that I got a few years ago. I think it’s a little smaller than the original toy, but functionally, it’s exactly the same. Transforming this figure was remarkably simple — the hood pulled out into legs, the tires pulled out into arms, and the head just popped right out of the top. Classic. Old-school. I’ve never put him on my keychain because I know it’d get destroyed in my pocket, and I couldn’t live with that.

New School

New School

I talk through the radio

I talk through the radio

The “Legends-Class” Bumblebee is a pretty simple transformation as well. This time, you pull out the back of the car to form the legs, the tires out for the arms, and the hood swivels down to form the chestplate. The head stays in place. TransFormers toys, these days, are ranked on a scale of 1 to 4 in complexity of transformation. This is a level two. It took me about 12 seconds.

Transformed to roll out!

Transformed to roll out!

Bumblebee the guardian

Bumblebee the guardian

The Deluxe-class Bumblebee is a level 3 transformation. He took me about 20 minutes. When I was a kid I could switch these things around in no time flat, but this nearly drove me insane. While the others transform just by pulling out a couple of pieces and snapping another part over, this one is transformed by traveling across the brutal pits of despair through the depths of Mount Doom and sacrificing a wild mountain goat to the demon-god Set. Heh — I’m just kidding. That would have been far simpler. Considering how vast the gap is between levels 2 and 3, I can only assume that any attempt to transform a level 4 toy would take me the better part of a week, while a level 1 would actually cause me to travel backwards in time.

We are family! Ive got my transistors and me!

We are family! I've got my transistors and me!

There have been many, many other Bumblebee toys over the years, of course. There are, in fact, several others available right now, and part of me wants to go out and get them all. Then the smart part of me smacks the stupid part and reminds me not to go overboard with this thing.

26
Jun
09

What do I write about?

What do I write about today?

Well, I could give you a review of TransFormers: Revenge of the Fallen, but I haven’t finished watching it yet. You see, on Wednesday I got together with Mike and Kenny to catch the movie in IMAX. With about 40 minutes to go, though, the theater lost power. The emergency lights came on and a managerial-type came in and told us the movie would start again shortly. Then the power came back, the lights went off, and the screen… turned purple. Then the lights came back on and the managerial-type came back in and announced that, due to the high-tech nature of the IMAX projection system, it would take an hour to get it back up and running, and they were giving us all two free passes to make up for our inconvenience. We went out afterwards to Izzo’s Illegal Burrito to eat and, periodically, shout out “DAMMIT!” to nobody in particular.

So I can’t write about that.

I could write about my car. The air conditioner went out about a month ago, right before school ended for the summer. Then Erin came to visit and I had a class beginning so I couldn’t bring it in to get fixed. Then yesterday, I was told our class today would be cancelled (ironically, because they needed to repair the air conditioner in the school building), so I decided to try to get it fixed. I brought it in and, a little while ago, got the call with estimate: $900, parts and labor. And I thought. I thought hard. I thought about just sweating it out for a while. Then I thought about the newspaper headline which reported that Wednesday’s temperature of 104 degrees was an all-time high for New Orleans, and that we were in a drought. And I sighed and said “fix it.”

But I don’t want to write about that.

I could write about Project Rebirth. I had two very interesting calls regarding that mystery project of mine this week, and both were productive. One really got me fired up. The second left me mildly disappointed, because I found out I wasn’t going to be able to do something I wanted to do. But both of them were good, because it means the project is moving foward and — perhaps more importantly — picking up speed. And who knows, soon I may even be able to tell you just what that project is instead of referring to it by its mysterious code-name.

So I can’t really elaborate about that.

The only other thing I’ve got is to tell you about the podcast I recorded last night. Chase is out working and we still haven’t quite forgiven Mike “I Like My Vampires Shiny” Bellamy for taking off to Philly without us last weekend. Plus, I wanted to talk about books without pictures, which leaves him out. Instead, I rounded up a first-time podcaster to guest-host with me: my sister Heather. Together we talked about the recently-concluded Percy Jackson novels, which I’ve finished, she’s just beginning, and we both love. Then I did something I really wanted to do — I showed her my copy of the new novel Personal Effects: Dark Art by J.C. Hutchins. Being a huge fan of J.C.’s work as I am, I knew that this book was going to come with a pouch full of papers, cards, and artifacts that you could use to play along with the book, along with URLs for websites and phone numbers you could call that would enhance the experience. I was psyched. But I thought it would be fun to show these things to someone who isn’t familiar with the concept and get her reaction. It turned out to be a pretty good little podcast. You can listen to it here: Week in Geek #24: Percy Jackson and Personal Effects.

Beware Your Fears Made Into Light

25
Jun
09

What I’m Reading: The Last Olympian

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book Five: The Last OlympianLast week, I reviewed books two through four of Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, all of which I enjoyed immensely. Later that same day, I got the fifth and final book in the series, The Last Olympian. I finished it the next morning. It’s been a long time since I read any novel that fast, a long time since I was up until the small hours because I couldn’t put the book down… a long time since any book deserved that kind of devotion from me. But this book, and this series, deserved every minute I devoted to it and more.

Things have gotten really bad at Camp Half-Blood. The evil Titan Kronos has managed to inhabit a corporeal body again, and is recruiting an army of Titans, Demigods, monsters, and even minor gods who have felt spurned by Olympus. Percy’s friend Nico has come up with a plan that may give him an edge against Kronos, but it’s a risky one — one that has led to the downfall of everyone who has ever tried it in the past. But will it be worth the trying if it’s the only way to save the world?

Jackson really nails this last adventure. First of all, he breaks his own formula for this book. The previous books in this series have all followed the same pattern: incident, journey to Camp Half-Blood, Quest. This book starts the same, but the quest is rather a short one. About a quarter of the way into the book we begin a battle sequence that lasts until the climax. It’s a long battle, to be sure, one that takes several days, but the bulk of this book is concerned with a single battle. What’s more, it’s one of the most fantastic battles I’ve ever read in contemporary fantasy. The setting works, the monsters, the warriors, the bloodshed — all of it feels authentic, organic, and real.

The way the series ends, also, is spot-on perfect. Every character is true to himself (or herself) and things come together in a way that’s not entirely expected, but doesn’t surprise because it makes sense. However, the book is a bit open-ended. If this is the last word ever written about the world of Percy Jackson, it’s a good capper. All of the major characters are accounted for and the major plot threads tied up. But, unlike the look into the future that ended the Harry Potter series, we don’t really get a glimpse of the characters’ futures. Each of the main characters who survives is given a role, a purpose, that could easily be extrapolated to a life story, but there’s still room there. In fact, at the very end Riordan gives us a hint of another great adventure that may or may not be told, and the afterward even refers to this as the end of the “first Camp Half-Blood series,” implying that there will be more.

I certainly hope there will. There’s room for more grand adventures, either with Percy or some other Half-Blood entirely, in this wonderful fantasy universe. I’m kind of glad I didn’t start reading this books until the last volume was already released. I got through the whole series in less than a month and had a wonderfully satisfying reading experience without the frustration of waiting a year in-between installments. But if Riordan gives us more, I’ll be in on the ground floor for the next series.

24
Jun
09

Everything But Imaginary #311: Convoluted Convention Report

Jonah Hex in hardcover? The return of Top Dog? Comics on the Kindle? The comic book convention season has begun, and this week I take a look at some of the announcements from last weekend’s HeroesCon in Charlotte and Wizard World Philadelphia conventions!

Everything But Imaginary #311: Convoluted Convention Report
Inside this Column:




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