Disneyland, The San Diego Zoo, my cell-away-from-home, and Comic-related stuff
I apologize (mostly to myself, since I'm the main audience of this drivel) that I haven't blathered on about any of the uber-exciting stuff that's been going on - or the books I've read - for a few months, but enthusiasm is low and all the time I thought I'd have with both kids out of the house...just hasn't materialized. But enough with the excuses. Here are a few of the things I've neglected to mention since August (the last time I talked about anything other than books I've read).
Current Cubical comics
To start things off, here are some photos from my current cubicle at work. I don't think I've shared my nerd wall since July of 2017, so let's just say there have been many different comic book selections hanging on my wall since then. The current selection is the first six issues of a comic book I acquired way back in 2007-2008 (back when I was a regular ComicCon attendee - before it became all about non-comic book stuff). Five of the six issues have sketches, signatures, and/or funny little comments (all but issue #1) on the covers from ComicCon, so that's fun.
Here's the wall.
The next set of comics on the wall will be from the amazing Mike Kunkel - Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam. And/Or maybe a few Gus Beezer Marvel comics. We'll see if I ever get around to sharing photos of those. I totally missed the Death Dealer, Conan, Batman, Kill ShakespeareNeverwhere, and many other comic series that have each decorated my wall for a couple of months each, so don't hold your breath.
The Decline of the San Diego ComicCon
And speaking of the multimedia extravaganza that was once a comic book convention called The San Diego ComicCon, here is something I have planned to mention for at least a year. It's another indicator (beyond my own disinterest in what the ComicCon has become) that the San Diego ComicCon should just remove the word "Comic" from its name.
Mile High Comics, a big comic book store in the Denver area that has an inventory of millions of back issues and was one of the founding fathers of the ComicCon 40+ years ago, decided in 2017 not to exhibit in the 2017 ComicCon (or ever again, presumably). If you've been to ComicCon (for the comics, not just to rubberneck for Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson), you've seen the gigantic booth along the back wall of the convention center floor.
I acquired a good part of the harder to find back-issues in my collection from Mile High. The only comic book I currently collect is American Gods (and Neil Gaiman-related hardcover graphic novels), so my own interest in comic books has changed over the past few years. Not due to a lack of interest, but more due to a lack of storage space. Regardless, here are a series of excerpts from post-convention emails Chuck Rozanski (Mile High's founder and fearless leader) sent out in 2017.
This is the first email Chuck sent in 2017 to warn his customers/mailing list subscribers of the Mile High Comics booth's absence:
To answer the numerous questions that we have been receiving of late, for the first time in 44 years, we will not be exhibiting at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. I wish that this decision could have been otherwise, but circumstances beyond our control made our further participation impossible. To explain, San Diego has grown far beyond its original premise, morphing from what was originally a wonderful annual gathering of the comics world, into a world-renown pop culture and media festival. As such, it has seen rapidly escalating costs, and also a dramatic change in the demographics of its attendees. Neither of those changes worked to our advantage.
To explain a bit more, my first little one-table booth in 1973 cost $40 to rent for the weekend. When we received our booth renewal for last year, our costs for our 70' of space had been raised to over $18,000. While quite costly, that one factor alone would not have precluded us from returning, as we had paid $16,500 in rent the previous year.
What made the situation nearly impossible, however, was that foot traffic in the exhibit hall declined dramatically last year. Even at its peak on Saturday afternoon, our end of the building (which was primarily comics) was uncrowded. The San Diego Fire Marshals were partially to blame, as they put much stricter controls on the number of badge holders allowed in the building at any given time. That might not have been such a bad idea, except that it amplified the harm already being caused by the incredible proliferation of off-site events that are now being set up for upwards of eight blocks all around the convention center. When you can see GAME OF THRONES, POKEMON, and hundreds of other exhibits across from the convention hall for free, why bother going in to the hall? Many fans did not.
To summarize, we experienced rising costs, while at the same time foot traffic in our booth plummeted. That is never a good combination. That having been said, I truly loved the experience of exhibiting at San Diego Con, so I can assure you that I would have ignored those two major obstacles, and still renewed my booth. The final straw, however, was the utter indifference of the San Diego Comic-Con management to the fiasco that we endured at the beginning of last year's show, when the freight handlers that they hired failed to deliver our comics to our booth.
So how could this awful thing happen? It beats the heck out of me. Our trucker was in line at the convention marshaling yard at 6:30 AM on Tuesday morning. At 9 PM that evening, with almost all the other vendors around us unpacked and completely set up, we still did not have our 40,000 lbs of freight. I had twelve workers scheduled to help us set up that day (included Will, Lynne, and Norrie who flew in from Denver that morning...), but all we could do was to sit around all day in our totally empty booth.
Making matters much worse, at no time during this ordeal (or during the show) did anyone from the convention management stop by with an apology, an explanation, or even just to commiserate. After 44 years of my supporting them through good times and bad, that was just too much indifference to endure. When you are in a relationship out of love and passion, but the other party could care less whether you live or die, you have to realize that it is time to move on. I will very much miss San Diego, but I doubt if the convention management will even notice that I am gone. Such is life.
click here to show or hide the full quoted excerpt
And here's a followup email Chuck sent in 2017.
For the past 43 years, the first day of the each San Diego Comic-Con was filled with hope and excitement for me. For decades, I could not wait for this wonderful gathering of all my friends from the comics world to begin. Beginning about ten years ago, however, the convention underwent a major change. Long-time SDCC supporters were told at the end of that year's convention that they were no longer going to be given the opportunity to purchase passes on Sunday evening for the following year. Instead, San Diego's most loyal supporters were told that they were going to be forced to enter an online lottery system dominated by hundreds of thousands of media and pop culture fans. Most comics fans were then shut out. In my opinion, it was that one callous decision that doomed the Comic-Con that we all once loved.
I could wax poetic about many other aspects of the convention that also influenced my decision to not return this year, but I will tell you in all honesty that I do not miss the stress of dealing with the freight handlers and trying to build our exhibit in the slightest. I broke a crown the other day and had to have some rather invasive dental work done this morning. Sadly, I realized while laying in the dentist's chair and listening to the whine of her drill that I was far more relaxed today than I have been on the Wednesday of San Diego in many, many years. It had become so bad for me that I was already dreading the Sunday night load-out hassles before the convention even began on Wednesday evening. Clearly, it was long past time for me to quit forcing myself to accept this dreadful stress, and to instead move on.
All of the above having been said, San Diego is still a major part of the pop culture world, and some news still emanates from the panels. I will try to keep you apprised of what I hear.
click here to show or hide the full quoted excerpt
This may not be of interest to anyone but me, but I'm a little bit sad that I no longer have a comic book convention full of artists and writers I admire (the small independent creators have long since been priced out of exhibiting) to look forward to visiting in July. Granted, I'm not exactly supporting the Comic Book industry with my one issue a month habit (American Gods). Maybe if the ComicCon hadn't b3ecoe what it is, I'd still be pouring tons of dough into my sequential art habit.
The Art of Emeli
And speaking of art, here are some of the amazing creations of my amazing daughter, Emeli. Each of these is fully painted and much more amazing than they appear in the poorly scanned or photographed representations you see here.
I could post so many more, but Emeli has been curiously shy about me sharing her talents online. In a weird way.
The Occasionally-Magical Kingdom
We went to Disneyland in December of 2017 and it was as crowded and unenjoyable as it ever seems to be. But I did take a few photos (probably a lot ore than this, actually, but I don't know where the others are at the moment). So here are a few photos that I took and forgot to take off my phone for many moons.
They're not super exciting, but a couple of them are things that just might disappear once the new Star Wars land opens next year. Snow White's castle at Christmas is always worth seeing.
We went to Disneyland again in September (2018) and, shockingly, it wasn't crowded. The good ol' crowd forecaster predicted "Ghost Town" crowd conditions (as it has erroneously many time in the past) and was actually spot-on. There were people there, so it wasn't exactly a "ghost town," but it was more like the Disneyland of yesteryear. There was no crowd to get in, no crowds for the rides I went on (Pirates of the Caribbean was a 5-minute wait), and the restaurants/shops were equally uncrowded. It was glorious.
One thing that was crowded was the security check points into the ticketing area. There were more Disneyland security and real policemen hanging around here than I've ever seen. But I guess this is the new normal because the next visit in October was just as security heavy. Welcome to the new world order - it's a Disney Police State.
Our first ride of the day (pretty much standard fare) was Pirates of the Caribbean. The line outside was nonexistent. There was only a single line to the boats inside. I'd guess it took no more than five minutes to get on the ride. So awesome.
I was surprised to see that Pirates of the Caribbean ride had been modified since the last time we visited Disneyland (maybe that's why it was closed for our previous visit).
It seems like the ambient narration script changed. For one thing, the "they've seen the cursed treasure..." part is gone. At least I think it is. Sad.
There's a new pirate in a cage being taunted by an octopus in a nook of the cave just before you reach the Captain in his treasure-filled room.
The ever-awful Davy Jones Squid-Faced fog wall is gone. As is the Davy Jones monologue.
And most disappointingly, the pirate bride auction is ruined forever. The redhead is now a pirate, the fatty is now selling chickens, and the other homely wenches are now elderly townspeople selling their valuables. Lame. Rewriting history all over again. I'm all for adding female pirates here and there (there were a few famous female pirates in the Caribbean), but does Disney have to ruin everything else to get them in the ride? Disappointed.
Here are a few Pirates-related photos.
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A much less disappointing modification was the addition of different planetary tours in Star Tours (planets from The Last Jedi). While it's definitely the same ride, it's always nice to have new scenery. There were also apparently some changes made to the Indiana Jones ride, but it was closed earlier in the day and was too crowded once it re-opened so I skipped it.
Here are way more Disneyland photos from this visit than anyone wants to see.
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All in all, a good day at Disneyland.
But then I had to go and ruin my warm, fuzzy memory with a follow-up visit in October. The forecast called for a 40% chance of rain, so we had high hopes for smaller crowds. Sadly, the only rain we saw was a light drizzle as we left the park in the afternoon.
The restaurants were as busy as they are in the spring or around Christmas (I don't do Disneyland in the summer, so I can't compare it to that) and we did the 5-hour parking thing again (with a sit-down meal in Downtown Disney) and I had my usual breakfast at the La Brea Bakery. I'm sure it was exactly the same as it's always been, but it didn't hit the spot, so I'll be trying something else if we return again in the future and want the free 5-hour parking.
I did revisit the WonderGround Gallery art shop in Downtown Disney briefly when we arrived and saw some matted prints of a couple of the big-eyed Disney/Star Wars characters for around $40 that I almost picked up, but we never made it back to the shop on the way out...so no new art to put in the garage this time. Another Downtown Disney observation - there was a ton of construction going on. And I was surprised to see the Rainforest Cafe was dead. That was a fun place to eat with the kids.
When we arrived at Disneyland, the line to get in was as short as it had been in September, so we were looking forward to another crowd-free day. The crowd-forecast calendar predicted an "It's all right" crowd - crowded, but not horrible. Initially, I thought the prediction was spot-on. And then I got inside the park. The crowds were out in force to admire the great Halloween decorations. Every ride's line was awful - the Haunted Mansion line was over an hour long. The Pirates of the Caribbean line snaked up over the bridge when we got there, but had somehow shrunk to just slightly annoyingly long (ending under the bridge) by the time we got off the Haunted Mansion ride.
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A couple more comments about the Haunted mansion line: there was a group of four women in their twenties wearing matching red bathing suits (one-piece, Disney-related, I think) with shorts covering the bottoms (though one had pants on, as I recall). There was an abundance of side-boob from a couple of the women and one of the side-boobers was very attractive (the others were just okay). But I was doing my best to be un-creepy and didn't take a photo of them. Also in the Haunted Mansion line, there were a couple of red-headed young women who were very striking in different ways - Dr. Frankenstein could have made a nice Jessica Rabbit out of the parts. One had a very striking pale face and gorgeous green eyes under her bushy red hair and the other had a body with impossible curves, topped off with a face that was all too possible. Again, I was being un-creepy and failed to capture either in a photo.
We had planned to go visit the land of Disney again in October, but it was going to be in the mid-eighties on the Wednesday we planned to go, so we decided to go to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park). I hadn't been to the Safari park in probably over 10 years (when it was the Wild Animal Park).
We have annual passes and were looking forward to the free parking that we'd always received in the past, but were surprised to be told that only the pricier annual membership granted free parking. Boo!
The highlight of the Wild Animal park was the tram ride around the open areas of the park filled mostly with African herbivores. I was surprised by the lack of carnivores that were part of the tour in the old days (as I said, it's been several years since I've been to the park). The lions were still apparently in the same place (we saw them after the tram ride), but maybe the fact that they were both asleep and oblivious to the world made mentioning them not worth the effort. I dunno. We also saw the baby animal nursery, a bunch of bird exhibits, and I bought some delicious fudge (so rich that more than just a tiny slice makes my teeth hurt. Awesomely delicious).
A few photos from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park trip.
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Also unmentioned was a trip to the San Diego Zoo last month. It had also been quite a few years since we'd last visited the San Diego zoo(or had annual passes). Quite a bit had changed (mainly animal exhibit relocation - including the stinky flamingos up front). The Panda-viewing line was as long as it was a million years ago and probably not really worth the wait, but they are cute little critters, even if they just kind of lay there and eat the whole time you're watching them. The Koalas were just as cute and a little more lively.
The sky ride is still there and apparently free for everyone now, not just the annual pass holders. The new Tiger Trail was really scenic and awesome (not the actual tiger part - the tigers were hiding in the furthest corner in the exhibit almost out of sight). We only saw a fraction of the zoo exhibits and I didn't sample any delicious chocolate, so there's not much more to say, I guess.
Here are a few photos of the Tiger Trail.
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There's a concert, some Balboa Park museum outings, a million books, and a couple of CDs I still plan to mention, but I'm out of steam and have a couple of book reviews to get to first...
I had planned to make my next post about music, Disneyland, the Tim Powers Alternate Routes signing, the Darius Rucker concert, etc. But I haven't organized my thoughts enough on any of those topics to blather about them here yet. So until I do, here are my thoughts on an e-book I just read, Perimeter, by Mike Rothman.
I was contacted by another author last week, Mike Rothman, who is self publishing a novel, Perimeter, on Amazon and was looking for some semi-intelligible reviews (emphasis on semi in my case).
The very brief description available on Amazon (and identical description on Goodreads) didn't really leave me full of hope that this would be a book I'd enjoy.
Levi is a "fixer" in a fix.
The CIA needs his help. The Russian mob wants him dead.
With enemies closing in and nowhere to turn, he learns that the one person who may hold all the answers ... is his dead wife.
I went back to Amazon and Goodreads today and saw that the book's description has been fleshed out with a lengthier synopsis. But, to be honest, the synopsis probably wouldn't have piqued my interest any more than the initial description did. It just doesn't sound like a genre I find especially enjoyable. Which is kind of funny, because I love the Jason Bourne/Jack Reacher/Jack Ryan/James Bond International Man of Mystery movie/TV genre. If that's all Perimeter had been, I might not have enjoyed it much. Fortunately (for me, anyway), the book is a little more than just another impossibly tough and skilled super dude running amok, thrashing bad guys and saving the day. Not a lot more, but a little more.
First, a brief description of the story's protagonist: Levi Yoder. Though not entirely a spoiler, it was surprising to me that Levi is an expatriate Amish (or whatever you call an Amish guy who gives up the Amish lifestyle and moves to the city to live amongst the "English"). My early impressions of Levi were that he is, despite his dubious occupation, a good guy. There's almost no profanity in Levi's internal monologue or spoken dialogue (the first two chapters don't get profanity worse than "heck," "crap," or "hell") and his motives always seem to be pure. I prefer a protagonist in my stories that is on the side of angels. Or who is, at least, morally unambiguous.
Pretty early on, the events of the story felt a little Tim Powers-ish. So I suspected the supernatural was going to play a big role in the story (which can detract-from or add-to the story, depending on how well it's done). If a book is set in a universe where supernatural stuff exists as a normal thing, then supernatural elements in a story aren't a huge problem. But in a story where nothing else is different from the world around us, supernatural elements have to be deftly handled to not feel goofy - Tim Powers is great at this. I'm happy to say that Mike Rothman is also good at keeping the supernatural elements from dominating the story (or at least turning it into a cartoon).
Speaking of well-handled stories with a supernatural bent (at least initially - we'll pretend the sequels never happened), Highlander ranks among my favorite all-time films, and parallels the events in this story (a little bit, anyway). Here's a brief excerpt to show why I see this similarity (a conversation between Levi and a monk who is, essentially, immortal):
"I've lived with this for longer than you can possibly imagine. I can't explain how or why it has come to pass. I've visited with doctors, and they cannot explain it. Oh, they certainly want to study it, but I don't think there's yet an explanation that medical science can give. This thing that we share makes some aspects of our lives terribly difficult. The ones we love, they all grow old and die." The monk's expression turned somber, and he pressed his lips together into a fine line. "That's truly the most terrible part of what we share."
And a little later:
I have no idea how you received this thing, but I can smell it on you. It's almost like the way an animal can recognize its own kind by the scents in the air.
It's very Highlanderish. But there are definitely differences - which I will keep to myself to allow for some mystery when you read the story. Actually, the supernatural elements of the story are almost more comic book than supernatural - beginning with the origin of the change that occurs in Levi's cancer-ridden body. The antics of everybody's favorite X-Man, Wolverine, come to mind. He's super fast, super tough, heals fast, etc.
There's quite a bit of Jason Bourne-type fighting action. Don't worry, there's an explanation for why Levi is able to handle himself so readily in the preceding chapters. I like this scene, set in an Afghani village:
A clatter sounded behind him, and he turned to see a woman, clad from head to toe in a black burqa, exclaiming something unintelligible as a half dozen cans of food spilled from her over-filled canvas bag. She cursed under her breath and scrambled after the cans as they rolled away.
Without thinking, Levi scooped up one of the cans that came to rest near his foot. He approached the woman and handed the metal container to her. "Here you go," he said softly in halting Farsi.
The woman's eyes widened through the narrow slit in her burqa, and the background sound of people haggling over prices at the nearby stalls suddenly grew quiet.
An Afghani man who'd been standing next to the woman yelled at Levi in Dari, "You pig! How dare you!"
The woman backed away, and three men approached, two of them wielding knives.
It dawned on Levi that he'd probably made some huge cultural faux pas that he was about to pay for - in blood.
With his body tensed, he dropped the can and backed away.
A man's arm snaked around his neck from behind. Without thinking, Levi grabbed the man's wrist with his left hand, raised his right shoulder as he'd done thousands of times before, and ducked forward, escaping the grasp of his assailant. With a quick twist of the man's wrist, something snapped, and the attacker screamed.
From the corner of his eye, Levi caught sunlight glinting off metal. He ducked just as another man slashed at him with a foot-long knife.
The blade came within inches of Levi's face, but he swept the man's feet out from under him. The man hit the ground, his breath blasting from his lungs.
Levi slammed an elbow into another attacker's face and felt the man's cheekbone crack.
Suddenly the sound of boots racing across the rocky ground echoed all around him, and American voices screamed warnings in multiple languages. "Hands up! Drop your weapons!"
Within seconds, Levi and his attackers were surrounded by a dozen soldiers, all aiming assault rifles at them.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
Though the profanity starts out really light, it picks up quite a bit as other characters enter the story and includes a great many f-bombs. Interestingly, the pretend profanity (crap, heck, etc.) is interlaced with the heavier profanity throughout the story - and not just from the Levi character. There is a little bit of sex-related content, but it's not explicit - more TV-MA than R-rated.
I'm looking forward to the further Adventure of Levi Yoder. I'd rather read them in a physical book, but I might be able to motivate myself to read them on my tablet. I just have so many books to read on my tablet already...
I'll try to get to all the other stuff soon. I also need to work through the backlog of books I've read over the past few months, so you have that to not-look-forward to, Dan.
I'm about seven completed books (all physical books) behind in mentions here now, but I'm working on catching up. It's putting a serious cramp in my reading because I don't want to add any more finished books to the pile until I've made some headway with mentioning the books I've already finished. And the book I'm reading now, The Dinosaur Lords is really challenging my resolve not to binge read. It's much better than I expected. But more about that in a month or two (or six).
I read Take Back the Sky a couple of months ago. It's the final novel in Greg Bear's Trilogy of books including War Dogs and Killing Titan (if the trilogy has a name, I'm unaware of what it might be, but the War Dogs trilogy seems to be an apt name. So that's what I'll call it from here on out).
A couple of books after completing Take Back the Sky, I read a novel set in the StarCraft universe by Timothy Zahn called Starcraft Evolution. Why am I mentioning them together now instead of mentioning the books I've read in the order I read them? Well, I'll tell you why. Even though each is a very different story and the writing styles are equally different, they both fill a common niche in my head that I call "Space Marine" stories. And because of that, they jumped to the head of the line.
Take Back The Sky
I haven't really done Take Back The Sky's predecessors, War Dogs or Killing Titan, justice here. They only received a super-brief mention last November. Sadly, I never really put much effort into explaining why these are books worthy of your hard-earned dough. I did, funnily enough, reference the StarCraft connection briefly in November.
So why do I associate the War Dogs Trilogy with StarCraft and not some other alien-infused novel, movie or video game? Well, similar to the aliens in Ender's Game, the aliens we first meet in War Dogs, the Antags, are insect-like and, in my minds eye, very like the critters in the Aliens movies. Thus also very much like the Zerg in StarCraft. But there are other aliens in the books that are, also relying on my mind's eye, more like the Protoss in StarCraft. There were other alien races also popping up here and there which didn't really fit the StarCraft mold (bats, squids, amorphous blobs), but they didn't really fit anything else, either (except maybe some of the aliens in Piers Anthony's super old Cluster series that I read probably almost thirty years ago and barely remember - there are just weird bits and pieces floating around in my head). So it's the Earth-folk (the Terrans) against the aliens - with the help of other aliens who ae providing the crazy advanced tech that gives the backward people of Earth a fighting chance. That's not exactly out of the Starcraft playbook, but it feels similar to me.
Pretty much all the action in Take Back The Sky takes place inside this giant alien ship that sounds like it contains at least several square miles of alien landscape within. It's filled with all kind of bizarre aline flora and fauna and is constantly evolving into different bizarre "screw gardens" - sort of like a dark, twisted Alice in Wonderland. The first Greg Bear novel I ever read a million years ago (probably before I read the aforementioned Cluster series) was The Infinity Concerto. Images from this barely remembered novel kept coming to mind as I read Take Back The Sky. Though I barely remember it, it left impressions of a dark, scary Dark Crystal-like monster-filled world, much like the creepy alien world within this ship.
Here's Vinnie's first "view" of the ship from within the transport bringing him up to it.
For a time, I feel like I'm floating in space, no body, just a pair of eyes-vision doubled, so it's a quartet of eyes - but very low rez. I can barely make out the stars. Then my perspective shifts and I think I see Saturn's rings, lightly sketched and again doubled, giving me a weird ache in my eye muscles. There are little flashing symbols on the different rings, the shepherd moons - then the view goes back to that goddamned ship. I have to guess through Bird Girl's eyes, or maybe what someone is telling her - because she can't see it directly, can she? - how big it really is.
The vessel we're closing on is maybe nine or ten klicks long and has a short, blunt tail. Forward of the tail swells a gray bulb maybe two or three klicks in diameter. Full of fuel to get home? There's a cylindrical midsection about four klicks long and a klick in diameter, and at the prow or nose, a long, skinny tube like the needle of a hypodermic. Big and ugly. Forward of the bulb, just back from the nose, five long containers are arranged in pentagonal frames around the middle cylinder like bullets in a revolver. Not all that different from the Spook, actually, but maybe ten or fifteen times longer. I can't see what drives it. I'm given the impression the big ship has been hidden away for years - kept in reserve, but by whom, and why?
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
And here's the first view of the ship's vast interior.
We reach the open end of one tube and emerge on one side of an aggressively amazing space. It takes a few confused seconds to process what we're seeing.
Big ship indeed.
A wide curved landscape stretches beneath us, rising on two axes to a central shaft maybe half a klick away, itself a hundred meters thick. The curved surface butts up against the shaft and then smoothly spirals around it, like the surface of a screw or the inside of a shell. No way of knowing how many turns the spiral makes, or how long the shaft is, but what we can see, upper surface and lower, is coated with a carpet of bushy green, red, and brown vegetation. Enclosing this giant spiral is a blank, almost featureless outer wall. The way the lighting concentrates on the screw itself is mysterious - no obvious source and very little scatter against that surrounding wall.
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
Here's a creepy trip through Alien Wonderland in a weird train that zips around within the ship.
Before I can hazard a guess, the car starts to move in the opposite direction - aft. We each take hold of a black arm and swing our legs into the cab, trying to hang on as the car picks Q speed. We're on our way, slammed this way and that as it swerves to avoid the thickest and most productive branches.
All around us there's growth and noise, branches rearranging, more cars passing on the opposite side of the trunk, bundles of raw materials being ferried and delivered to the branches...
The cell is metastasizing. The ship feels more and more like a gigantic, cancerous lump, producing death and destruction a million tons at a time.
Farther aft, huge objects, the embryonic beginnings of big hang on the outer branches, some hundreds of meters long and still expanding, their hulls not yet closed over. Other, larger grapplers and industrial organelles move new components toward these ships, through gaps in their unfinished skins, and into what I have to assume are the proper positions.
The whole Guru war machine is in full gear, getting ready for a voyage across the solar system and beyond, to a far world where humanity's new enemies are being fed the old line of imminent conquest and domination...
Recycle whatever you can, right?
click here to show the full quoted excerpt
As with the previous two novels, Take Back The Sky has flashbacks to Vinnie's (Master Sergeant Michael Venn) childhood that explain who he is and how these events shaped him and his relationship with Joe, one of the officers. The book is told first-person, always in Vinnie's voice. Many of the flashbacks take place in San Diego, which I enjoyed because it was easier to paint my mental imagery of the story as I read. And as might be expected from characters that are marines, the language is salty. Exceedingly so. There's no shortage of every form of profanity you could imagine.
Here's a early snippet that's less of a flashback than just a memory about Vinnie's childhood and his wise old granny.
My grandfather was a colonel in the Rangers. My grandmother was a fine Army wife and very smart. One of the things she taught me is that God can do anything except change a man's mind. "That's why there are wars," she said, and knew the subject well. In two wars she had lost a husband, two sons, and a daughter, leaving her with just my mother, who was thirty when her sister died. "Men are so goddamned stubborn they will insult, curse, and shout until they can't back down, and then decide it's time to send our children out to die. The fellows who order up wars almost never go themselves, they're too old. But they're still cowards. If you're a leader and you screw up a war, or maybe if you just start a war, you should blow your brains out right in front of all the Gold Star mothers, sitting on bleachers in their Sunday best - and that's what I say, but don't quote me, okay? This kind of talk upsets your mother."
Until I was eight and my mother and father divorced, we lived on or around military bases.
Take Back The Sky definitely wraps up the trilogy with a nice little bow. A lot of people die, some people live, and the alien threat is - as far as I can tell - neutralized.
So you've saved Mankind from marauding aliens. What are you going to do now?
You're going to Disneyland!
Right now, I'm a fraud. I do not want to have killed anyone or anything. I do not want to die like a soldier and end up in Fiddler's Green. I want to die the death of a dreaming child.
Someday, if God will honor a solemn request, I'd like us all to join up at Disneyland in Anaheim. A great big reunion of old enemies, old friends, old warriors. We'll meet in the parking lot, where I last saw my aunt Carrie, before she went off to die in the Middle East, and stroll between the ticket booths and up the steps, past the flower gardens, to climb aboard the old-fashioned steam train...
But first I'd explore the train station and listen to the conductor's ghost - a balding mustached guy from a really old western, speaking behind a window, probably wearing a vest or an apron...telling us where we need to go next to have fun or just relax. "This way, boys and girls...to the happiest place on Earth"
So sappy it's painful.
We'll shake hands and talk, and then just sit in silence before strolling to the other rides, the other celebrations. The restaurants. The gift shops.
Silly ideas keep me going.
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I get the feeling that Greg Bear hasn't been to Disneyland in a couple of decades. Nevertheless, this is a well-expressed sentiment for why I love Disneyland as much as I do.
If you haven't played the Starcraft Computer game, there's really no use tying to explain to you what Starcraft is. And you definitely won't enjoy this novel because it assumes a familiarity with the political history, alien creatures, Terran weaponry, and basically everything that has taken place in Starcraft I and II.
It's not the only, or even the first, novel set in the Starcraft universe, but it is the only one written by an author who has never disappointed me: Timothy Zahn.
Here's an early battle scene that will be nonsense to the uninitiated (I noted several of these that I found interesting in the story, but decided that sharing more than one was overkill).
When something goes to hell, one of Tanya's instructors back in the Ghost Academy had liked to say, everything else will probably go to hell with it. In this case, Ulavu barely had time to warn that a zerg was approaching when ten of the creatures burst through the foliage a hundred meters away and headed straight toward them.
Tanya felt the air freeze in her lungs as she reflexively ran the numbers. Five leopard-sized zerglings were ranged at the front of the pack, their sickle-bladed limbs and razor fangs poised to cut straight through CMC neosteel and tear into human flesh. A baneling anchored each end of the line, the bloated acid sacs on their backs pulsating as they strode along. That acid would take marginally longer to destroy their armor, but would be no less effective at the job. Behind the banelings were a pair of hydralisks like the one the group had encountered earlier. But these two had nothing of that first hydralisk's air of idle curiosity about them. Their eyes were fixed on the intruders, their claws twitching, the muscles that launched their poison needles rippling with anticipation.
And behind all of them, one of the nastiest heavy-ground zerg of them all: a ravager, standing even taller than the hydralisks, its broad, turtle-like shell surrounded by a crown of bone spikes. Set deep within the circle of spikes was an organic mortar capable of launching globs of acidic bile through the air, strong enough to destroy even protoss force fields.
"Combat stance," Whist said, his voice unnaturally calm as he took a wide step to the right and brought up his gauss rifle. "Hold first until they close to seventy meters, then target the hydralisks first. When the zerglings get within fifty meters, switch targets to them - "
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It's funny how this same scene in the game would be over with before you had a second to consider the attack formation (and, in truth, most attack formations in the game consist of disorganized swarms of troops due to...well, due to it being really hard to coordinate with any more control than just mob charges).
The events of Starcraft Evolution are told with a strict third-person narrator voice. And the various troops in the sotry, though also marines, have a much less-profane way of expressing themselves. So this is a fine book for all ages, unlike Take Back the Sky.
If you have played the Starcraft PC games and can appreciate a well-written follow-up to the events that concluded Starcraft II, this is a book for you. Starcraft fans may also enjoy the Koprulu sector Timeline at the end of the book. I did. It might be a good place to start if you're unfamiliar with the games and still want to read a well-told SciFi story.
c. 1500 AD - A group of rogue protoss is exiled from the protoss homeworld of Aiur for refusing to join the Khala, a telepathic link shared by the entire race. These rogues, called the dark templar, cut their nerve cords to permanently sever their connection with the Khala.
2231 - The government of Earth launches four supercarriers - the Argo, the Sarengo, the Reagan, and the Nagglfar - - to colonize hospitable planets mapped out in a nearby star system. Tens of thousands of passengers are placed in stasis for the journey, which is estimated to last one year.
2232 - The supercarriers' linked navigation systems fail. The ships travel through space blindly, without a programmed destination.
2259 - The ships' warp engines finally melt down. The supercarriers emerge into an unmapped region of the galaxy that will later be known as the Koprulu sector, and they make emergency landings on three planets - Umoja, Tarsonis, and Moria.
2323 - The Terran Confederacy is founded on Tarsonis.
2475 - Two corporate entities on Moria form an alliance, the Kel-Morian Combine, to stand against Confederate intrusions on their territory.
2485 - Tensions between the Confederacy and the Kel-Morian Combine explode into open war. This conflict will later become known as the Guild Wars.
2489 - The Confederacy declares victory in the Guild Wars.
2489 - Umojan colonies form a military coalition called the Umojan Protectorate to ensure independence from Confederate tyranny.
2489 - Senator Angus Mengsk and members of his family are brutally murdered by assassins after Mengsk dissents from Confederate leaders. His surviving son, Arcturus, openly rebels against the Confederacy from his homeworld of Korhal IV.
2491 - The Confederacy decimates Korhal IV through nuclear bombardment. Arcturus Mengsk begins sustained guerrilla operations against the Confederacy.
2491 - Mengsk's forces, the Sons of Korhal, capture ghost operative Sarah Kerrigan and secure her cooperation against the Confederacy.
2499 - FIRST CONTACT
*The zerg, a previously unknown alien race, invade the planets of Chau Sara and Mar Sara. Shortly thereafter, a second unknown alien race, the protoss, razes all life on Chau Sara.
*Marshal Jim Raynor, while leading the fight against the zerg on Mar Sara, rebels against the Confederacy and joins with the Sons of Korhal.
*More planets openly revolt against the Confederacy.
2500 - THE DOMINION RISES
*Arcturus Mengsk uses the Confederacy's own experimental technology to draw the zerg Swarm to. the capital world of Tarsonis. The planet is utterly destroyed. Mengsk also leaves his loyal operative Sarah Kerrigan behind to die, causing Jim Raynor to defect.
*Unbeknownst to terran forces, Kerrigan is captured by the zerg, not killed.
*Mengsk declares himself the ruler of a new nation - the Dominion. He consolidates the scattered forces of the Confederacy under his command.
*The protoss homeworld of Aiur is overrun by the zerg, but the Swarm's leader, the Overmind, is killed.
2500 - NEW CONFLICT
*Forces from the United Earth Directorate (UED) expeditionary fleet arrive in the Koprulu sector, seeking to assert control over terran planets.
*With the Overmind dead, Sarah Kerrigan - newly infested and empowered by the zerg - seeks control of the Swarm. She allies briefly with protoss and human factions to oppose UED forces.
*After securing her position as the uncontested ruler of the Zerg, Kerrigan turns on her allies. Retaliatory assaults against her stronghold on Char by protoss, UED, and Dominion forces fail.
*Surviving UED forces scatter. None return to Earth.
2502 - Dominion intelligence confirms that Artanis, a young protoss military commander, is leading both the Aiur protoss and dark templar factions.
2504 - CIVIL WAR
*Jim Raynor redoubles his insurgent activities against the Dominion. Valerian Mengsk, Arcturus's son, aids him in secret.
*Zerg forces begin to invade Dominion territory again.
*Civil unrest spreads across core Dominion worlds after allegations of Arcturus Mengsk's excesses are made public.
*Armies led by Valerian Mengsk and General Horace Warfield invade the zerg planet of Char (with assistance from Jim Raynor's forces). They neutralize and capture Sarah Kerrigan.
2505 - THE SWARM REEMERGES
*Arcturus Mengsk launches a raid on Valerian Mengsk's stronghold in Umojan territory. Jim Raynor is captured. Sarah Kerrigan escapes.
*Arcturus Mengsk declares victory against the zerg and enacts a brutal civil suppression regime to end unrest.
*Kerrigan reclaims control of the zerg.
*The Swarm invades Korhal, cutting a direct path to Arcturus's palace and killing the emperor. Zerg forces leave the planet immediately.
*Valerian Mengsk becomes the Dominion's leader. He pledges to reform his father's policies and promote peace throughout the Koprulu sector.
2506 - WAR WITH AMON
*The protoss' Golden Armada launches an attack to retake Aiur from the zerg.
*During the invasion of Aiur, the protoss discover that the zerg on the planet have been enslaved by the rogue xel'naga Amon. Amon then corrupts the Khala and gains control of all protoss within the psionic link. The dark templar Zeratul severs Hierarch Artanis's nerve cords, destroying his connection to the Khala and allowing him to escape Amon's possession, but Zeratul is killed in the battle.
*Artanis liberates as many other protoss as he can. They join up with the surviving dark templar and flee from Aiur on the arkship Spear of Adun.
*Artanis and his forces journey to Ulnar to learn the fate of the xel'naga, the protoss' ancient benefactors, and find that all but Amon have perished. While there, Artanis uncovers Amon's plan to use the protoss and the Overmind's remains to forge a new host body. If Amon succeeds, all life in the universe will be destroyed.
*Using an ancient xel'naga relic known as the Keystone, Artanis drives Amon from the Khala, and the formerly enslaved protoss sever their nerve cords to ensure their freedom. Artanis and his forces retake Aiur. Amon is banished to the Void.
2508 - AFTERMATH
*Kerrigan, Jim Raynor, Artanis, the broodmother Zagara, and their forces enter the Void to attempt to defeat Amon once and for all. Kerrigan absorbs the remaining power of a xel'naga, becoming xel'naga herself. She gives Zagara command of the Swarm. Then, with the aid of her allies, Kerrigan destroys Amon, disappearing shortly afterward. Raynor also disappears sometime after the battle.
*The terrans, the protoss, and the zerg end hostilities with one another.
*Valerian Mengsk begins open elections in the Dominion.
*Zagara takes control of the systems near Char for the zerg Swarm.
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I had planned to talk about the Alternate Routes Tim Powers signing and the hardcover of A Study in Emerald that I picked up on the night of the signing, but I've run out of steam. Next time. I was also going to mention a bunch of other non-book stuff, but that, too, will have to wait.