Where have I been?

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that my posts have been less frequent in the past year. In lieu of my usual holiday “snailmail” letter, here’s an update.

Late 2014 turned out to be difficult. Janice and I traveled to Pennsylvania and New York City to visit an ailing uncle of hers and our college friend Steve A.L., respectively. Both of them died, so we drove back down to their funerals.

Mike H., the manager of the Compleat Strategist in Boston, also died, joining Robert A.S. and other role-playing friends whom we lost in the past few years.

After the usual holiday travel to see our families in Upstate New York and Virginia, Janice and I got sick in early January 2015, followed by a very snowy winter in the U.S. Northeast.

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Waltham, Mass., February 2015

I then changed jobs in March 2015 (Janice had changed technical writer positions in September 2014). This has been the main thing keeping me from blogging.

After about six years as an editor managing a TT site about Windows enterprise desktops, I began working at EH/RBR as a writer covering robots. My former colleagues gave me a very nice going-away party, and a few have stayed in touch, joining former co-workers from BNA and IDG/CW.

Robotics has been an interesting beat, as I’ve learned a lot by trying to keep up with the business news around this rapidly developing technology. I’ve also had the good fortune to travel to events in Milan, Italy; San Jose, Calif., and soon, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

In the coming months, I may also get to travel to Canada, Denmark, and Lithuania for work. While I don’t particularly enjoy spending time in airports or cramped airplane seats, any chance to see the world, meet new people, and eat new food is a good one!

I got to tag along with Janice to Limerick, Ireland, and we really liked exploring the Cliffs of Moher, various castles, and the beautiful countryside. Janice and I have also returned to regular arts fairs such as the Lowell Folk Festival and the Christmas Revels.

In the meantime, Janice and I have kept busy, hosting college pal David I.S. & Sandra K. for last New Year’s and the wedding reception of mutual friends Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H.

We also hosted her family for Easter and her 50th birthday, grad school chum Erik B.L. and his family, and St. Louis-based gamer Byron V.O., who may be visiting again later this month.

In late August, we met my family in Ogunquit, Maine, to celebrate my mother’s 85th birthday, my father’s 80th birthday, and Janice’s and my 20th wedding anniversary. So many milestones!

I also attended genre entertainment conventions including Anime Boston, the Tampa Bay Area Renaissance Festival, the Watch City Steampunk Festival, the Boston Comic Con, and the Rhode Island Comic Con. All of them had the usual cosplayers, fun panels and autograph sessions with celebrities, and tempting artist and vendor booths.

We recently spent Christmas at my brother and his family’s new house in Northern Virginia, and we met some friends in Westchester, N.Y., on the way home. Some of us have started planning reunion gatherings to celebrate the 30 years since we graduated from high school and began college.

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The “Westchester crew,” December 2015

Three nights a week, I’ve continued my role-playing games and historical weapons classes. My D20/FATEVanished Landsfantasy campaign has given way to two adventuring parties using Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition (D&D5e).

Fellow Game Master Jason E.R.’s “Star Wars: Dark Times” scenario (using Savage Worlds) just ended its latest chapter, and we’re about to start Bruce K.’s D&D5e “Kings and Pawns” space opera miniseries. The latest “episodes” of my D20/FATEStar Trek: Restorationgame also went well.

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My latest Star Trek costume, Halloween 2015

Speaking of ongoing series, I’ve been enjoying the latest wave of fantasy, horror, superhero, and science fiction shows on television (more on that to come). I saw fewer movies in theaters in 2015 than in previous years, but I’ve gotten pickier, and time has been limited.

I’ve also been reading several SF magazines and Web sites, assorted pulp comic books, and various novels (mainly with the “Escapists” book club). So much to do, so little time!

I’ll try to post more specific reviews in the coming year, and I wish all of you a healthy, peaceful, and Happy New Year!

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March movie madness, 2014 edition

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen more movies than I usually see in months. I enjoyed Mr. Peabody & Sherman, 300:Rise of an Empire, and Veronica Mars, but I wouldn’t recommend them to everyone.

On Saturday, 8 March 2014, Janice and I went to the Apple Cinemas in Cambridge, Mass., for Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which is based on cartoon shorts by Jay Ward, who’s best known for the subversive Rocky and Bullwinkle. The computer-animated movie retains some of the original’s cleverness and expands on the character relationships.

If you’ve seen the trailers or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, you know what to expect. Genius dog Mr. Peabody (voiced by Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell) and his adoptive son Sherman adventure through time with difficult Penny Peterson. This Dreamworks film is aimed at younger audiences, with a PG rating, but its script includes a few adult gags. I’d rate Mr. Peabody & Sherman an 8 out of 10, four out of five stars, or a B+. It’s not as witty as The Lego Movie, but it was still fun.

By contrast, I advise lowering one’s expectations for the sword-and-sandals 300: Rise of an Empire, a sequel to Frank Miller and Zach Snyder’s 2007 ahistorical epic. On Friday, March 14, I met fellow Game Master Jason E.R. for dinner and Rise of an Empire at the Reading 3-D IMAX.

Loosely parallel to the events of the previous 300 flick, in which elite Spartan troops tried to hold back hordes of Persians at Thermopylae, Rise of an Empire depicts Athenian general Themistocles leading the Greeks in naval battles against Persian despot Xerxes and his right-hand dominatrix, Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus. Miller and company clearly subscribe to the “great men” and “clash of civilizations” ideas, despite the fact that the Greeks weren’t yet enlightened democrats, nor were the Persians mindless, monolithic barbarians.

The first third of 300: Rise of an Empire is arguably the most accurate, showing some of Themistocles’ tactics and the daunting odds faced by the Greek hoplites. The middle of the movie would be a decent sword-and-sorcery film, with Xerxes ascending to weird demigodhood and Eva Green a better Belit from Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories than Artemisia.

The last third of the movie features huge set-piece battles and lots of repetitive speechifying. It also manages to have the Spartan navy get credit for an Athenian victory, well-oiled bodies in slow motion, and yet more gratuitous beheadings. Jason and I were surprised to see young children in the audience, and at a hard “R,” that’s not a good idea.

I would recommend 300: Rise of an Empire to those who enjoy swordfights but aren’t too worried about actual history (which is interesting enough in its own right). I’d give it a 6 out of 10, 2.5 to three out of five stars, or C+/B-.

As a contributor to the Kickstarter campaign for a cinematic follow-on to the Veronica Mars television series, I was predisposed toward this sleuthing sequel. In the noir TV show, Kristen Bell played a precocious adolescent who solved crimes around Neptune High School in southern California. I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for lunch and saw this film at the AMC Loews Boston Common.

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The cast of “Veronica Mars,” then and now

The Veronica Mars movie picks up about a decade later. Veronica is interviewing for a high-powered lawyer job in New York City when murder and intrigues draw her back home. It was great to see the TV show’s entire supporting cast, as well as a few celebrity cameos, and the darkly comic tone was pleasingly familiar, not unlike Joss Whedon’s “Buffyverse.”

The Veronica Mars movie is definitely a gift to fans; like Firefly/Serenity, newcomers won’t understand most of the jokes or appreciate why some of us liked the original so much. The first season of the TV show was its best, but we should be glad that, with Bell and others busy, we still got a fond reminder and wrap-up. I’d give Veronica Mars, which is rated R, an 8.5 out of 10, four out of five stars, or an A-.

In the coming weeks, there’s Muppets Most Wanted and Captain America: the Winter Soldier, and I’m also looking forward to Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the latest incarnation of Godzilla. I know it has been a while since I’ve blogged about non-gaming topics, but I’ll keep trying to find the time!

Chasing the squid

On Tuesday, 13 August 2013, I met former co-workers Ken G., Bob R., and Michele & Paul D. for dinner at City Streets in Waltham, Mass. We then went to Lizzy’s Ice Cream on Moody Street for dessert and our latest “Escapists” book club meeting.

We discussed China Mieville’s Kraken, which Bob, Michele, and I liked, but Ken and Paul didn’t. Here’s my Goodreads review of the novel:

KrakenKraken by China Miéville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed every China Miéville book I’ve read so far, and Kraken is no exception. Fans of modern urban fantasy will enjoy this look at an alternate London, where apocalyptic cults duel in the shadows and a museum curator stumbles in his flight from inhuman assassins.

Mieville’s social sarcasm, thicket of allusions, and linguistic acrobatics are all present, if somewhat toned down from his other novels. I’d compare Kraken favorably with Gaiman’s American Gods for its mythic lyricism, punctuated by banality and violence. Like any visit to the strange creatures under museum glass, it’s worth a visit, taken with a grain of salt….

View all my reviews

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Steampunk squid

I’ve also recently read and enjoyed David Brin’s Existence, which incorporates his optimistic ruminations on the not-too-distant future (a nice counterpoint to the latest wave of dystopias) and serves as sort of a prequel to his excellent “Upliftseries. Like Mieville, he subverts reader expectations but still has faith in our better angels….

Escapists” book club reviews (5 members), 2012 to 2013:

  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman: 3.38 (out of 4.0)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon: 3.28
  • Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut: 2.94
  • World War Z, Max Brooks: 2.02
  • Daytripper, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon: 3.6
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein: 2.64
  • Kraken, China Mieville: ?

Boston Comic Con 2013 report

On Saturday, 3 August 2013, I went to the Boston Comic Con, which had been postponed and relocated because of the marathon bombings this past spring. David I.S. had hoped to attend it. The convention was crowded but worthwhile.

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Superheroes visit Boston

I got to the Seaport World Trade Center by 9:30 a.m., and the lines to get in were already around the block. Advance ticket holders like me, Beruk A., and Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. ended up waiting an hour or more, while those who bought their tickets that day, such as Sara F., didn’t have to wait as long. I hope that the organizers will have more people working admissions next year.

As with last year’s con, which I attended with Janice, it was great to see a diverse range of fans of all ages, races, and genders. Even though the site was bigger than the Hynes Convention Center, which was originally supposed to host the show, the crowds likely exceeded the expected attendance of 15,000 by a significant percentage.

Although it’s too bad that Dave and Janice weren’t along, it was nice to be at the con with a group. I ran into several people I know, including a co-worker and folks from Bedrock Comics, Newbury Comics, and New England Comics.

Readers looking for back issues could find excellent deals on trade paperbacks and graphic novels, and toy collectors had many booths to choose from. There were also several vendors specializing in arts and crafts, if fewer of fan-made films, costume accessories, or tabletop role-playing games.

Getting beyond the dealers’ area were some celebrities and the artists’ alley. Although Walking Dead and Hobbit fans were eager for autographs, we focused on the latter this year. We also didn’t get to any panels or the film festival because of staggered arrivals and the crowds.

I was glad to see comics greats such as Neal Adams, Colleen Doran, Mike Mignola, George Perez, Don Rosa, and Tim Sale. Even though I had met several of them before, we were happy to chat with the likes of David Petersen, Joe Quinones, and Daixong. I bought sketchbooks from some of these artists.

Of course, there were lots of fans and exhibitors in costume. DC and Marvel Comics characters were well-represented, as were anime and videogame properties. There were also some steampunk cosplayers and impressive homemade garb. I didn’t wear a costume because of comfort, but I always appreciate those who make the effort.

I’ve already been to a few local genre entertainment events so far this year, including the Watch City Festival and Creation Star Trek convention. For next year’s Boston Comic Con, I’ll have to plan more carefully to account for the crowds, and I hope that friends will again join me.

In the coming months, I look forward to the Rhode Island Comic Con and the Super MegaFest, as well as possibly the New York Comic Con! Coming soon: Other genre news and reviews, food outings, and game updates….