Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 January, 2012

Exit Ace?

In The Curse of Fenric Ace told The Doctor, "Professor, I'm not a little girl" shortly before creating a distraction with a nice little temptress routine. Here Ace goes the whole nine yards and beds a member of the Mendeb bourgeoisie named Kedin Ashar. A first for me. My impression is that Ace beds quite a few gentlemen in the NAs but this is the first time she has done so in a PDA. Not a little girl indeed.

The problem starts when the TARDIS brings Second Doctor and Jamie to the Mendeb system but find the heat oppressive and no obvious way to interfere with another civilization. The Doctor vows to return but Jamie is not at all confident that the Time Lord will actually remember to do so. To help jog The Doctor's memory in the future, Jamie grabs a souvenir. Unfortunately the tchotchke ends up being a vital component to a communications system. Many years later Ace discovers the circuit and The Doctor's memory is jolted. They return to the Mendeb system in hope of returning the part, restoring communication between the inhabitants of Mendeb Two and Mendeb Three, and having a happy ending.

Despite having a time machine, nothing could ever go so smoothly. The TARDIS lands on a space station which resides in orbit between Mendeb Two and Three which were settled by the TAM Corporation many centuries ago. The company abandoned the planets and took most of their precious technology with them leaving the people behind to start anew. Ace is keen on adventure and has The Doctor leave her there to explore while he continues to Mendeb Two. Unbeknownst to our intrepid heroes, the inhabitants of Mendeb Three are quite technologically advanced in contrast to their brethren on Two. The aforementioned Kedin Ashar is Mendeb's Alfred Krupp, inventing and manufacturing arms for the scheming and treacherous Duke Vethran.

Things have gotten to the point where there are no checks on Vethran's ambitions. Ashar plots a putsch and enters the slave trade in order to fund his rebellion. He is kidnapping the peaceful folks on Mendeb Two, giving them a drug called SS 10 which strips them of their volition, and pawning them off to the petty nobility of Mendeb Three.

Ashar does his work from the space station where he runs into Ace who is almost immediately smitten with him. While he is also taken with her, he pines for his love, Tevana, who is being held in seclusion by Vethran as insurance. But Ace is able to operate some of the station's technology that has escaped the abilities of Ashar and his compatriots. The afterglow of their night at the horizontal disco wears off quickly once Ace figures out that the man she bedded is involved in human trafficking. Ashar has her drugged and sent to Mended Three where she will at least be safe, if a mindless slave.

Meanwhile The Doctor befriends Bep-Wor, the lone survivor from a village that was destroyed and whose inhabitants were forced into slavery. Bep-Wor follows The Doctor in hopes of being reunited with his love, Kia-Ga. The Doctor ends up being this Spartacus figure leading a rag-tag group of people against the slave masters of Mendeb Three while Ace is a slave that ends up in the service of Vethran.

There's no mystery here for The Doctor and Ace to solve. Instead we have one of those stories where The Doctor and Ace find themselves between two parties in conflict. I thought the opening gambit with Jamie snagging a vital bit of circuitry to be pretty lame. You'd think Jamie would know better than to screw with things wires and "flickering wee lights". That The Doctor and Ace are separated for most of the story may or may not appeal to any given reader. On the one hand, it deprives us of Doctor-companion banter. But on the other it gives Ace to prove her mettle instead of being dependent on The Doctor. (And it gives her time for some carnal indulgences.) Unfortunately she spends a lot of time under the influence of an SS 10-like drug, essentially out of commission until she can be the hero at the last minute.

I liked the meta love triangle here. Ashar works to rescue Tevana, Bep-Wor seeks Kia-Ga, and The Doctor tries to get back to Ace. Of the three, only the last comes to something akin to a happy ending. Tevana and Kia-Ga had both been dosed with SS 10 the effect of which The Doctor finds to be inalterable. Bep-Wor (what's with these hyphenated names for the people on Two?) ends his grief by ending his own life while Ashar sinks into the depths of perdition. Ace decides to stay and start a new life in the Mendeb system but is dissuaded by Ashar who, in the end, concludes that the only choice left is to simply carry on.

This ending is bleak for more than just the Mendebians. Sure, Ace escapes becoming an SS 10 zombie but all is not well with her and The Doctor. She wants independence. She needs a break from her travels. For his part, The Doctor seems to have a touch of melancholia. He is unable to reverse the effects of SS 10, for one thing. But there is more to it than that. Ashar tells Ace in rejecting her offer to stay, "He needs you, Ace. He can't function without you. And, from what you tell me, he has a great burden to carry and much to do." Perhaps it is an angst that only Time Lords can understand.
|| Palmer, 11:46 AM || link || (0) comments |

27 January, 2012

What Will Happen to Ace?

I imagine that Prime Time is in large measure a parody of the BBC with the inhabitants of the planet Blinni-Gaar completely addicted to the mindless television programming on Channel 400. In fact, they are so totally given over to TV that few people actually work with automated combines harvesting the field where the TARDIS lands. Vogol Lukos runs Channel 400 with the aid of a computer system known as "Auntie", presumably as in Auntie Beeb, and he is quite happy to have The Doctor on his planet as he has some designs on making the Time Lord the star of a new show which will have literally the whole star system watching.

Mike Tucker returns here though he is without his usual writing partner, Robert Perry. A blurb notes that Tucker was a BBC special effects guy at the time he wrote the book. Perhaps the story is revenge on his employer. The guy obviously loved the Seventh Doctor and I can't blame him.

The Doctor and Ace wander the city, Blinni Prime, I think, and encounter independent reporter Greg Ashby and his cameraman Eeki Tek. Ace develops a crush on Ashby though he is really out to land an interview with The Doctor, hero of Coralee. Also out on the prowl are a band of bloodthirsty Zzinbriizi Jackals.

The Zzinbriizi are, unsurprisingly, doing the bidding of Lukos who comes across as a very one-dimensional bad guy – power-hungry and cocksure. Think the pirate captain from The Pirate Planet. Not as cartoonish with his own Mr. Fibuli to boss around in the form of talk show host Roderik Saarl. Since Blinni-Gaar has cameras pretty much everywhere, the planet is like one big reality show set. This frustrates The Doctor and Ace who find themselves unable to pull a stunt to gain access to Channel 400 HQ.

I really liked this element of the book. Lukos knows quite a bit about The Doctor and looks to get his hands on the TARDIS. The Time Lord scores a minor victory on a trek to Blinni-Gaar's moon where he discovers Channel 400's broadcast tower and a strange device that is wired into it but Lukos gets the upper hand. He lures The Doctor and Ace into one of the studios with a jungle set that proves to be bigger on the inside than the outside. Plus that pack of Zzinbriizi Jackals are hunting them down. And it's all being broadcast on television to boot.

Ace escapes with the help of a teenage girl named Gatti who must be the only teen in the whole galaxy who doesn't watch TV. Meanwhile The Doctor meets up with The Master who's had his TARDIS jury rigged into that jungle set. The banter between the two Time Lords is fun and we discover that the hold of the Cheetah People remains within The Master just as it did with Ace in Matrix.

Things take a turn for the worse when it is revealed that The Doctor's fellow defiant one is, in fact, not The Master but a Zzinbriizi given a nice disguise by the Fleshsmiths whom I first encountered in Relative Dementias. They have honed the ability to manipulate flesh to an art form. Here we find them in their hideout on the planet Scrantek and it is revealed that, not only has The Master come to them seeking a new body and been betrayed, but also that they've struck a deal with Lukos. He gets the whole galaxy watching Channel 400 whose signal has a Fleshsmith enzyme piggybacking on it which will turn the bodies of viewers into their modeling clay.

Since the Fleshsmiths have the ability to clone, you have to wonder why they took the long way and decided to plot this hideous and hideously complicated subterfuge to transmogrify people into the medium of their choice. Why risk meddling Time Lords when all you have to do is grab once person and you can have all the clay you want? Haste makes waste.

I liked Prime Time even if it was a bit over the top. The Doctor is true to character here as he makes the decision to save the life of the faux Master. And I enjoyed their verbal sparring as they ran through the jungle set. I think it's the first time I've encountered the arch villain in any of the PDAs and it was nice to have Anthony Ainley's version of the character in my imagination. Plus I appreciated the continuity from the TV show regarding his adventures on the Cheetah world.

On the other side, Ashby ends up being rebuilt by the Fleshsmiths which is nice and grotesque but ultimately feels tacked on. His former lover is herself a hostess for Channel 400 and their reunion seems like a convenient ploy to make sure the good guys prevail.

I find myself looking forward to reading the rest of the 7th Doctor PDAs written by Tucker and Perry because they've toyed with Ace here. There is plenty of her kicking ass and taking names but she also gets her 15 minutes of fame at the hands of Roderik Saarl. Stuck onstage and forced to watch images from her future, Ace breaks down emotionally. Images of her elderly mother and of her own grave were just too much. The book ends with The Doctor hunting down that grave and discovering that it is indeed real and not the product of Channel 400's effects team. Chillingly, Ace's body is that of a teenager and not an old woman.

Tucker and Perry have a couple novels left to explain this one.
|| Palmer, 2:38 PM || link || (0) comments |

Near East Side Looking to Brew Up a Storm

Brewer Peter Gentry is looking to open a nano-brewpub at 1148 Williamson, the former home of Indus Beads. It would be called One Barrel Brewing Company.

Someone else is also looking to open a brewpub in town and is apparently eying up Atwood Avenue as the location.

And yet another person is proposing to open a meadery on the 800 block of East Washington.

Joe or anyone else - are these folks with the MHTG?

My guess is that One Barrel is up for a fight with the neighbors. There was a neighborhood meeting on Tuesday about Gentry's plans but I haven't heard how it went. I suspect that Willy Street denizens who are already fed up with the noise from Plan B and the Wisco are going to put up a fight against another drinking establishment in their neck of the woods. Time will tell.

On a related note, the Joseph James Brewing Co. of Nevada will be opening a brewery in Franklin to brew for Midwest and Northeast markets. Not quite as big a story as Sierra Nevada opening a brewery in North Carolina but good news for Wisconsin nonetheless.
|| Palmer, 9:45 AM || link || (7) comments |

25 January, 2012

Others: Their Deaths and Their Shoes

(More here.)

John Tirman, the author of The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars, wrote an very interesting and incredibly sad opinion piece for the Washington Post recently called "Why do we ignore the civilians killed in American wars?".

The major wars the United States has fought since the surrender of Japan in 1945 — in Korea, Indochina, Iraq and Afghanistan — have produced colossal carnage. For most of them, we do not have an accurate sense of how many people died, but a conservative estimate is at least 6 million civilians and soldiers.

Our lack of acknowledgment is less oversight than habit, a self-reflective reaction to the horrors of war and an American tradition that goes back decades. We consider ourselves a generous and compassionate nation, and often we are. From the Asian tsunami in 2004 to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Americans have been quick to open their pocketbooks and their hearts.

However, when it comes to our wars overseas, concern for the victims is limited to U.S. troops.

Tirman gives a couple of explanations for this. First is that Americans are good people who go out and kill savages. The second is the "'just world' theory" which says that people assume the world is an orderly place and get mad at people that demonstrate it to be anything but. Civilian deaths in war time don't jibe with the idea that Americans only kill bad guys.

The piece concludes with a plea: "More attention to the human costs may jolt the American public into a more compassionate understanding."

I thought of Tirman's article when I read this one. It describes the outrage felt by many Iraqis in the city of Haditha after Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich received a slap on the wrist for his part in the slaughter of Iraqi civilians there. In November of 2005 a roadside bomb went off killing one of Wuterich's squad and the Marines went on a rampage.

In all, 24 Iraqi civilians were killed – 19 in several houses along with five men who pulled up in a car where the marines were on patrol in Haditha on November 19, 2005.

The victims included 10 women and children killed at point-blank range. Six people were killed in one house, most shot in the head, including women and children huddled in a bedroom.

At first the military said that the Iraqis were killed by an IED and then the truth emerged. Eight Marines were charged but it came down to Wuterich after one Marine was acquitted and the rest had the charges against them dropped. For his part in the massacre, Wuterich agreed to a plea deal which saw him demoted to private, had his pay docked, and was given a 90-day confinement which he won't have to serve. The judge decided not to dock his pay the full amount because Wuterich has sole custody of his three daughters. If only such compassion was shown to the Iraqi children in Haditha on that day.

The upshot is that there are a lot of people in Haditha who are angry because they see American Marines getting away with shooting Iraqi children at point-blank range. I can only imagine the ill-will this judgment generated in the Middle East and in other Islamic areas when the news reached them.

Like that old Rare Bird song goes, sympathy is what we need. (Or perhaps empathy, more correctly.) As Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler wrote in his pamphlet War Is a Racket:

The Japanese, a proud people, of course will be pleased beyond expression to see the United States fleet so close to Nippon's shores. Even as pleased as would be the residents of California were they to dimly discern through the morning mist, the Japanese fleet playing at war games off Los Angeles.

I won't be voting for Ron Paul this autumn but this video, which I take to have been made by a PAC that supports him, has the right idea. Put yourself in the shoes of the people who have American soldiers and contractors occupying their homelands; put yourself in the shoes of someone who has American drones flying overhead that could send missiles down at any time; put yourself in the shoes of those unfortunate people in Haditha who had their friends and family members gunned down by American Marines.

The United States is ready to sanction certain banks that deal with Iran's central bank; the EU and Australia are boycotting Iranian oil; Iran, meanwhile, is getting ready to formally tell the EU to fuck off and is threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz.

In his State of the Union address last night, Obama noted that "America is a Pacific power". Our "defense strategy" for the near future is to keep spending more money and focus on the China. As I learned from reading Michael Klare's Resource Wars, "Over at the South China Sea, the region's powerhouse, China, is making waves by claiming an ever larger swath of the sea as its own much to the chagrin of other countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines, etc. Japan has an interest here as well as tankers that supply it with oil sail through the area."

Plenty of warmongering to be had.

So the next time you're in a voting booth or listening to some politico lecturing you on the necessity of invading another country, put yourself in the shoes of those at the other end of the barrel of American guns or standing beneath American drones.

|| Palmer, 2:36 PM || link || (0) comments |

Spanish Bishop Decries Tempting Teens (And Jesus Loves Him Some Wheat)

Those poor priests. The ones who sexually abuse children. According to a bishop named Bernardo Álvarez it's all the fault of the victims because they're just a bunch of tempters and temptresses.

His comments were that there are youngsters who want to be abused, and he compared that abuse to homosexuality, describing them both as prejudicial to society. He said that on occasions the abuse happened because the there are children who consent to it.

‘There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you’, he said.

And of course he threw in the obligatory homophobia during this round of comments as well.

On a slight tangent, I found this article about the manufacture of communion wafers here in the States. As I read I wondered what Catholics who have Celiac disease do when it comes to communion. I read on.

The Catholic Church requires that hosts be made of wheat in order for communion to be valid, but there is a small number of Catholics who suffer from coeliac disease, a hereditary autoimmune disorder that makes it impossible to digest the protein found in wheat gluten. In the 1980s, people with coeliac disease began to agitate within the Church for alternatives to the wheaten Eucharist, that they might participate more fully in Catholic services; but the Church remained intransigent on the point.

Apparently Jesus will only transubstantiate from wheat so the Church turned its back on the gluten-intolerant in its flock. Finally in 2001 an ultra-low gluten version was developed which passed papal muster and that of those with Celiac disease.

My understanding is that Jesus consecrated wheat bread hence the need for wheat wafers. But doesn't the story go that he also consecrated grape wine and not fresh grape juice? If unfermented grape juice is passable for communion these days, then why not rice wafers? Is there some passage in the Bible where Jesus smotes spelt or explains why he won't reify in rice?

I can just imagine a bunch of Sophisticated Theologians® sitting in the basement of The Vatican arguing over why their omnipotent deity preferred wheat and won't let his body be sorghum. It'd be just like that scene from The Name of the Rose.
|| Palmer, 11:56 AM || link || (2) comments |

24 January, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

If my stepkids could have their way, they'd be eating sushi from Edo for three squares a day. Hopefully this movie will make its way to a theatre in Madison so we can see it together. If not, I guess we'll end up watching it on Netflix.

|| Palmer, 9:35 AM || link || (0) comments |

23 January, 2012

Alexios in Absentia

I recently watched the first episode of a new BBC programme called The Crusades. The show is hosted by Thomas Asbridge, a medieval historian. I have heard good things about his book The First Crusade: A New History and have it on my to-read list. And so it was very disappointing to actually watch the television program.

The first part is called "Holy War" and it is an account of the First Crusade. It begins by showing the statue of Urban II at Clermont where he gave his adamantine call for crusade in November 1095. The show quotes Urban as saying that there were a bunch of barbaric Muslims in the Holy Land making life horrible for fellow Christians. Asbridge describes how nobles such as Raymond of Toulouse, Bohemond of Taranto, and Godfrey of Bouillon signed up. Much is made of Urban's promise that those who die will have their sins forgiven. In other words, it's a holy war and those who fought in it did so for the love of their god. It's a very appropriate introduction considering what follows. But it's also jumping the gun, in my opinion.

Now, I'm no scholar of the Crusades but even I sat there waiting for Asbridge to mention the name of the Byzantine emperor, Alexios I, who had written to Urban asking for Western help against the Seljuq Turks in the spring of 1095. He never did. I'm also no scholar of the history of scholarship of the Crusades but my impression is that Asbridge's "new history" is one that emphasizes the religious duty that crusaders felt they had and minimizes what is perhaps a more traditional view which holds that the noblemen who led the First Crusade were less interested in doing God's work and more keen on crushing their enemies, seeing them driven before them, hearing the lamentation of their women, and gathering up all their booty. Fair enough. In my last adventure learning about The Crusades, a sense of religious duty was definitely one of the motivations mentioned. The problem is that Asbridge never mentions Alexios I by name and says, strictly in passing, that Byzantine emperors had appealed to the Latin West for help in the past. All the emphasis on piety and duty relegates the fact that Alexios I asked for help in March 1095 and that this was a prime factor in Urban calling for a crusade in the first place to the deleted scenes featurette on the forthcoming DVD. Plus Byzantine emperors loved to dangle the carrot of reconciling the Latin Church with the Eastern Orthodox one. When Urban made his speech, it had been just over 40 years since a papal legate and the patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated one another.

I found this part of the show confusing. Asbridge notes that Jerusalem had been in Muslim hands for a few centuries and that seemed to work out OK so there was no new and urgent reason to take Jerusalem. Urban was faced with a problem in trying to motivate people to retake the city. Asbridge takes Urban to task for lying about Muslim treatment of Christians in the Levant but he never really establishes why Urban called for a crusade in the first place. It was like he pulled a new religious duty out of his ass. Not only was Alexios' plea ignored but I don't recall the program saying a word about how it had become incredibly difficult for Westerners to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

Alexios at least gets mentioned – referred to only as "the Byzantine emperor" – when the main contingent of Frankish nobles arrive in Constantinople. Other than this, the Byzantines aren't mentioned at all. Asbridge devoted a few seconds to the so-called "People's Crusade" which arrived in Constantinople first. Comprised of pilgrims and some minor nobles, it proved to be an unruly mob which not only massacred Jews along the way (which was mentioned briefly in the show) but also pillaged the area outside the walls of Constantinople (not a peep about this). This is important because the show recites the words of the one of the important Frankish nobles in the second wave upon meeting Alexios which leads viewers to believe that all was well with the Crusaders and their host. However, this was not the case. Alexios was really unamused by the first wave of crusaders and was thusly highly suspicious when the second arrived. He made the leaders take an oath of fealty to him, gave them provisions, and sent them on their way so that they'd be the Muslims' problem, not his.

While in Anatolia, the Crusaders were joined by some Byzantine forces, a fact that Asbridge never mentions. I think that the Byzantine troops had all returned from whence they came by the time the Crusade made it to the Levant, but this certainly is no reason to avoid noting their presence altogether. Asbridge focuses on the fierce resolve of the Westerners in face of some terrible trials and tribulations and it cannot be denied that they encountered some adverse situations, to say the least, and overcame them. Their story is truly remarkable. But Asbridge goes too far with this Hollywood-esque underdog-beats-the-odds approach. Context is left out and details get ignored. Antioch and Jerusalem are mentioned but why was Edessa left out? It was one of the three crusader states that were established in the wake of the First Crusade.

In addition to the Byzantines being left out, I think that only a single Muslim was mentioned. It's sort of ironic because Asbridge talks about Urban II making the Muslims out to be the dreaded "Other" and demonizing them, yet Asbridge basically does the same thing. When the Crusaders battle Turks for the first time, he says that the leaders were caught off guard as they'd never encountered Muslims and their style of fighting. Perhaps I'm confusing this crusade with a later one, but I thought that at least one of the nobles on the First Crusade had fought in the Reconquista and was familiar with their opponent's tactics.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if this program was written under the impression that it would be 90 minutes or 2 hours long and that some producer made the decision to cut it down and make it into such a narrow story worthy of Hollywood. From what I can tell, Asbridge is a scholar of some repute so the omission of so much information must surely have been anathema to him.

Aside from all that's wrong about the program, there are several good elements to the show. First is that you get to see some pretty pictures in HD. It was great to see the last remaining section of the wall which surrounded Antioch in the late 11th century as well as a few books which are some of the precious few primary and secondary sources we have. The illumination/gilding looked magnificent. (Although you have to laugh at his feigned surprise at seeing these books. The guy has a doctorate in the subject and is a published author. He has no doubt seen all these texts before.) I want to give Asbridge and the makers of the show my great thanks for not doing reenactments. I'd rather look at illuminated codices than watch reenactments. The only computer-generated anything was probably the maps, which they made good use of in orientating the viewer. Some CGI reconstructions of cities wouldn't have been bad but I like the stylistic decision to stick with real things that you can stick a camera in front of. There were some awkward shots, though. The program made use of contemporary footage of the Levant and hearing Asbridge's narration about Muslim attacks while seeing some gentlemen at a table playing a game and drinking tea was, well, awkward.

Lastly Asbridge deserves credit for taking time at the beginning of the show to explain and emphasize the role of religion during the Middle Ages in Western Europe and how this helped explain the answer to Urban II's call. Westerners live in secular nations these days whereas a thousand years ago religion was ubiquitous and had the Church had a large role in both secular and quotidian affairs. Securing an afterlife in heaven was a much greater priority then than today.

While there was much to like about this first episode of the series, I am still amazed at just how much was left out. One needn't go on about the state of Frankish political affairs or the different factions in Anatolia, but I just don't understand how you can talk about the Crusades and all but avoid mentioning the Byzantines. The narrative here is so narrow to be misleading. Hopefully part 2 will be better.
|| Palmer, 4:03 PM || link || (0) comments |

17 January, 2012

"The real face of America is Guantanamo"

Guilty of nothing, Lakhdar Boumediene, was thrown into Guantanamo and tortured. He was there seven years. His life in is ruins. Yet most Americans don't care. Where are the "progressives" on this? Oh, that's right. It's all Obama-approved so they dare not say anything.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

|| Palmer, 4:14 PM || link || (0) comments |

12 January, 2012

The Stormwatch Brews as the White Sea Snaps

Considering that Matrix was a big letdown I wasn't quite sure what to think when picking up >Storm Harvest. Would it be as bad as its predecessor? Or would it be a return to form? I mean, Perry and Tucker did write Illegal Alien which was quite good so perhaps Matrix was an aberration. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Storm Harvest kicked some major butt.

Most of the Seventh Doctor PDAs that I'd read until this point had gloomy settings. London during the Blitz, a spooky old nursing home and underwater spaceship, and Whitechapel with Jack the Ripper on the loose. Even the a rural village in The Hollow Men utilized the cover of night and underground passages. And they all took place on Earth. Here I found welcome relief from the murkiness as Storm Harvest takes place on 43rd century Coralee, a planet whose surface is mostly oceans. About 98% of it with the paltry bit of land that human colonists have given over to resort development. Like a planetary Club Med. There's beautiful blue oceans, sand, and sun – a marked contrast to the previous novels.

After the depressing events of Matrix, The Doctor and Ace retreat to Coralee for some R&R. I found the picture of The Doctor stepping out of the TARDIS onto the beach with his trouser cuffs rolled up to his knees while clutching a red bucket along with a small shovel to be genuinely funny. (Oh, and he had a kite too.) He builds a sandcastle in the shape of the City of the Exxilons (it's from Death to the Daleks - had to look that one up) which he gets to glow. Again, I was humored but this time by the picture of a cable running from the TARDIS to a sandcastle.

Of course all is not well on this pelagic holiday. A research vessel, the Hyperion Dawn, is savagely attacked on the high seas by unknown forces with both the crew, minus one survivor, and the ship being shredded to pieces. The beauty of this opening sequence is its pacing and it extends through the whole of the book. Perry and Tucker let events unfold at a natural pace with no last second tweak foiling a complex plan and saving the day in one fell swoop when multiple stratagems over a couple hundred pages couldn't do the trick. They build a sense of menace and nurture it until it becomes dread.

In the scene we witness the crew working and learn a little about them. A couple divers work below while the rest of the crew prepare equipment on the ship. There's a bit of friendly banter with crew leader Holly Relf calling one of the divers by his nickname, "Bruiser". Things seem to be going well until the divers realize that all of the fish have dispersed. Not a single one remains in sight. They radio up to the surface and Relf decides to bring the divers back up immediately. The wench attached to the safety lines gets rolling. Relf is forced to fight the urge to vomit when she sees that all that is left of the diver is one incredibly mangled body. She is about to issue a strategic advance to the rear when the ship heaves. It is now under attack and the results won't be pretty.

Back on the shore The Doctor and Ace meet Edwin Bryce, a travel writer who is almost fond of the drink. He has written a cookbook consisting of the finest Androgum recipes for novices (Yay! A Sixth Doctor reference!) and is currently researching his next tome which will be a chronicle of his travels in the colonies. He blathers on about Coralee's original and highly bellicose inhabitants as well as a race of hideous creatures called Krill. The only thing left of the aboriginal population are their great cities which are ruins submerged beneath the waves.

This piques The Doctor's curiosity and trips some alarm bells too so he heads to the colony's administrative building. To get in, he does what many college students have done: creates a fake ID. Posing as an agent of InterOceanic, he gains entry where he meets, or rather discovers the colony co-ordinator, Brenda Mulholland, unconscious in a meeting room. He also inveigles his way into a mission to check out the wreck of the Hyperion Dawn with one Professor MacKenzie.

Meanwhile Ace decides to take the tourist route with an underwater sight-seeing tour of the ruins that Bryce described. The submarine is captained by Rajiid, a rather dashing Indian gentleman (Yay! A person of color!) that Ace is attracted to. Also part of the crew is the cicerone, a dolphin named R'tk'tk. Here in the 43rd century, dolphins are outfitted with headsets which translate their clicks into English. There are also these exoskeletons with mechanical tentacles that they use to move about on land. Professor MacKenzie has a cetacean companion as well named Q'ilp who smokes a cigar when out of the water and likes to talk smack. These dolphins could have been really cheesy characters but are done well. R'tk'tk and Q'ilp engage in some verbal sparring as dolphins are, as we learn, a quarrelsome bunch who have a few hundred ways of offending one another's immediate family members. (A nice nod to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, if you ask me.) And it isn't the humans who get all the action. R'tk'tk and Q'ilp get their chances at a bit of derring do. The cetaceans aren't relegated to being a prop in the background and they don't end up being delphinus ex machina either. They are just eminently likeable characters that have full subsidiary roles.

And then there are the Cythosi, a despicable race which have a penchant for keeping humans as slaves. Although they await in their ship out in space, they are monitoring the events on Coralee closely.

In addition to loving the change of scenery, I also appreciated that Storm Harvest had a fair number of non-humans. The Cythosi, Krill, Dreekans, and any number of alien tourists. Plus those dolphins. Perry and Tucker ably juggled them all. But the best part of the story is how the authors built up the menace with a bit of creepiness here and an attack there until it was all-out doom and the reader is confronting a base-under-siege story. Perry and Tucker leave themselves plenty of pages after the menacing and nearly indestructible Krill begin their assault and they come up with something a bit like Aliens. Truth be told, I was genuinely creeped-out by it all. Despite knowing that our beloved heroes would live to fight another day, I had a very hard time putting the book down.

I adored Storm Harvest and Perry and Tucker get bonus points from me for having The Doctor say, "I'll have you know that back on Gallifrey I was renowned for my sartorial elegance!" That made me chuckle. Easily the best Seventh Doctor PDA so far.
|| Palmer, 3:55 PM || link || (0) comments |

10 January, 2012

Fotoshop by Adobé

The latest beauty product.

Fotoshop by Adobé from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.

|| Palmer, 4:32 PM || link || (0) comments |

An Idea Whose Time Has Come for Madison

A pozoleria!

I could murder a bowl of pozole right now. Too bad Pozoleria San Juan is in Chicago. The Chicagoist is on the case.

Pozole, a traditional Mexican soup made of hominy, or dried maize, kernels, is the speciality of the restaurant, although a wide variety of flautas, tacos and tortas expand the menu. Keeping true to their heritage, the pozoleria offers three kinds of pozole: roja, verde and blanca, each representing a color of the Mexican flag.

I'll have mine mit chicharrón y aguacate, bitte.

Plus they're open 24 hours on Friday and Saturday and until 1AM the rest of the week. I can see a roadtrip in my future. Get an early start, have some pozole for breakfast, and then cruise around town.
|| Palmer, 3:51 PM || link || (0) comments |

Return of the Scrapyard

Matrix is another Seventh Doctor PDA written by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker. The pair of them wrote four of the eleven 7th Doc PDAs while Tucker did one solo. I'm not sure how they managed to hoard so many of the 7th Doctor slots but, as I plow through them, I am getting to know their style.

The book begins with a mysterious figure huddled in a Gothic cathedral concocting a clay figure with its pale, bony hands. A dash of necromantic energy and POOF! – the figure disappears. We then join an introspective Doctor who stares out at an ocean. He's brooding over his inability to relate to his companions on an emotional level and laments that he is no better in this respect than his Time Lord peers which he abandoned. Suddenly a golem appears out of nowhere. After a brief chase into a lighthouse, Ace dispatches the thing with some of her Nitro-9.

The Doctor and Ace retreat to the friendly confines of the TARDIS only to discover that an evil, yet familiar, presence has infiltrated the old girl. It taunts The Doctor and tears at his mind. Finally he realizes that this presence has taken advantage of the TARDIS' telepathic circuit so he removes it. Thinking that Ace is in danger, The Doctor decides to leave Ace in the care of himself or, rather, his first incarnation, and so it's off to London in November 1963. But things there are wrong. For one thing, there are zombies running around. Another is that it appears that his previous self had never been there. He and Ace run into old companions Ian and Barbara who don't know a Doctor nor Susan. After Barbara explains how things got to be the way they are, The Doctor decides to travel back to the point in time and space when things went awry for Earth's history: Whitechapel, 1888.

Almost immediately after landing in a shipyard, The Doctor becomes a Time Lord possessed and attempts to kill Ace. But at the last moment he is able to fight the force which possesses him allowing Ace to flee. At this point, I knew that this was going to be one of those stories in which The Doctor and his companion were going to be separated for a time. I just didn't think it would be for as long as it was. Every once in a while as I read I took note of how long it had been since The Doctor made an appearance. "Ooh, it's been 50 pages." "Man, 80 pages and no sign of him." Separating The Doctor and Ace isn't a bad thing. Giving The Doctor amnesia so that he is basically absent from the story for most of it also isn't necessarily a bad thing when you've got a companion like Ace who is resourceful and interesting in her own right. The problem here is that the story is just a mess.

And it's a mess from the beginning. While I appreciated the sense of gloom and foreboding that Perry and Tucker create (and sustain throughout), the story just starts too abruptly for my taste. Why is The Doctor brooding? From information learned later in the story, I think an argument can be made that his mood at the beginning of the story is related to the machinations of the villain but I don't think that link is ever made explicitly. The opening scene with the golem just feels out of place and thrown in just because Perry and Tucker needed to start somewhere. It's too short and golems don't have a big role in the rest of the story.

The pall hanging over the heads of our heroes only deepens in Whitechapel, and that's a good thing, as is Malacroix, the sinister ringmaster of a circus that has set up shop in London. Ace's story of survival on the mean streets of Whitechapel makes for a good tale. She meets various minor characters that add to the atmosphere and, more importantly, the struggle brings out the Cheetah that remains inside her from the TV story Survival. Malacroix will stop at nothing to have her in his troupe of freaks.

Exposing the traces of the Cheetah planet that still reside within Ace complements The Doctor's dilemma well, namely, that the bad guy here is the Valeyard, that distillation of The Doctor's darker elements from his penultimate incarnation writ large and given corporeal form who was featured in Trail of a Time Lord in Sixth Doctor's final season. Given that the Valeyard is the mirror image of The Doctor, he is an extremely interesting character with lots of potential. Unfortunately Perry and Tucker can't capitalize on the opportunity.

At the end of the book, the Valeyard reveals his blasphemous machinations. In short, he survived defeat on the television show and absconded away with the Dark Matrix, a vast repository of all the "forbidden thoughts" of every Time Lord that died, inside a TARDIS. He then set about capturing all of The Doctor's previous incarnations and fostered their evil sides. The Valeyard landed his TARDIS underneath a church in Whitechapel and began his scheming.

I think this is a pretty bad-ass bit of conniving but Perry and Tucker don't utilize the Valeyard to the full extent. He hides in his TARDIS making golems and saying stock bad guy things like "Now you have are in my grasp, Doctor" and "She cannot interfere with my plans!" (These aren't direct quotes, mind you.) For such a wonderfully evil character, he just doesn't do a whole helluva lot beyond pulling the odd string until the very end of the story where The Doctor foils everything with due haste. That The Doctor is in a self-imposed state of amnesia and absent for most of the story compounds the problem because these two aspects of the same being confront one another for a paltry amount of time when their encounter should have been lengthier and more meaningful. We should have learned more about The Doctor and, perhaps, have any new revelations tie in with the weltschmerz that he felt at the beginning of the book. It feels like an opportunity to add depth to The Doctor's character and have a really big showdown was wasted.

There's another character that deserves mention and that is Joseph Liebermann. He is a kindly old Jewish man that takes in Johnny, a.k.a. The Doctor when he cannot recall his identity. Liebermann seems resigned to his fate – the Jews are always blamed. The curious part is that he is very old – more than twice as old as The Doctor – yet we learn very little about him and what accounts for his longevity. He is perhaps the Wandering Jew of Christian folklore. The book has six parts and each part is prefaced by a short scene that is outside of the main story. Part Six opens with Liebermann identifying himself as Isaac and he is in a bar in Salt Lake City when the Eighth Doctor pops in and strikes up a conversation with him. Liebermann reveals that he was given the name Joseph by a man call Ananius. Perhaps this Ananius is Ananias of Damascus, a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Other scenes include Pontius Pilate being told that one Cartaphilius has gone on a journey, Joseph encountering some treasure hunters in the desert of Qumran, an old man looking in Antwerp discovering that he is young again, and an old man giving some solace to a young girl.

Perry and Tucker could have been laying the groundwork for Liebermann to return in a future book but I cannot find any evidence to support this notion. Thusly I can only conclude that they said all they wanted to say about him here. Just as Ace's inner Cheetah reflects the Doctor vs. Valeyard duality, Liebermann seems to be yet another analogue of The Doctor. The pair fix clocks together, many of which line the walls of Liebermann's home. As Johnny, The Doctor performed a supernatural card trick in a bar which Liebermann correctly surmised as being his attempt at constructing a matrix.

But the important part is that Liebermann, like The Doctor, wanders. Also like The Doctor, he tries to help others. However, he is weary. Is The Doctor getting fatigued as well? It's possible that his little bout with ennui at the beginning of the book is a symptom of this (or perhaps it was the result of his previous incarnations being pulled from their timelines.) Regardless, the book doesn't dwell on this although later books in the series may return to this notion.

While there is a plethora of interesting ideas here, Matrix ultimately fails because it's too big of a mess. Furthermore it woefully neglects the villain with the Valeyard doing precious little and being disposed of all too quickly.
|| Palmer, 2:25 PM || link || (0) comments |

In Praise of the Oxford Comma

I thought this was a funny little demonstration of why the English language needs Oxford commas. But I ran into a real-world instance today up at Salon in David Sirota's piece "What makes a progressive?" In describing some of Ron Paul's positions on issues, he writes:

"At the same time, though, when it comes to war, surveillance, police power, bank bailouts, cutting the defense budget, eliminating corporate welfare and civil liberties, Paul is more in line with progressive goals than any candidate running in 2012 (or almost any Democrat who has held a federal office in the last 30 years)."

(Emphasis mine.)

Paul does not run on a platform of eliminating civil liberties yet Sirota's statement is unclear with the comma. It should read "At the same time, though, when it comes to war, surveillance, police power, bank bailouts, cutting the defense budget, eliminating corporate welfare, and civil liberties..."
|| Palmer, 11:48 AM || link || (0) comments |

04 January, 2012

Doctor Who: Relative Dementias by Mark Michalowski

While Relative Dementias was the eighth 7th Doctor PDA to be published, it is the first in order chronologically. Author Mark Michalowski places his story between Battlefield and Ghost Light both of which were part of the final season of the Classic Series. Like most of that season and all of the 7th Doctor PDAs I've read so far, this story takes place on Earth.

I liked how Relative Dementias opened with a burst of short scenes that fail to include The Doctor and Ace. The prologue introduces us to Graystairs, what I took to be an old folks home. It's a staccato series of bits of conversations that are derived from the elderly and the senile being left at Graystairs by their families. I was vaguely reminded of those "Camera Eye" sections of the U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos. This gives way to another short section in which we meet a female character who is on watch on a shoreline of some sort. We have no idea what she's keeping an eye out for or why she is in a new body that has a bum fingernail.

Next we meet Doctor Joyce Brunner. She is a member of UNIT and knows The Doctor. However, Dr. Brunner knows the Third Doctor (and Bessie too!). She has brought her mother to Graystairs, which is somewhere in rural Scotland, but has some "vague concerns" about the place. So she contacts The Doctor the only way she knows how: sends a postcard to the PO box in London that he gave her. And lastly before our intrepid time travelers enter the scene, we get a brief glimpse inside Graystairs with orderlies being ornery and fussing over the disappearance of one of their patients, Eddie.

I don't doubt that some people would find this rapid-fire introduction of places and characters, some named and some left anonymous, to be confusing. But it does lay out many of the story's building blocks from the get-go and, quite frankly, I don't mind being a bit confused. Indeed, I rather like that sense of bewilderment because it means that the game is afoot.

The Doctor and Ace finally enter the picture as they traipse around London in 2012. They make a stop at the residence of Countess Gallowglass who runs a little post office for aliens on Earth so that they can get their mail. The Doctor hasn't checked his in quite some time and is perturbed by something he received. He keeps his cards close to his chest and really pisses Ace off when he locks her out of the Console Room. She can hear him speaking with someone else but can't discern much more than that.

Just when we think that Michalowski is finished giving us the introductory material, he throws in a diver in some body of water somewhere who finds a dome underneath the surface. Yet another place and person to contend with.

With a highly irritated companion, The Doctor sets course for Muirbridge in 1982. He explains to Ace that an old friend of his, Dr. Joyce Brunner, has some reservations about a facility claiming to have found a cure for Alzheimer's disease and he's bound to investigate.

As you can imagine, not all is as it appears at Graystairs. A bald albino man sits alone on the top floor crying to opera while patients go missing and one even gets total recall. Ace and The Doctor investigate things separately which leaves the former on her own when she stumbles across a teleportation device in Graystairs' basement. She fends off the albino's henchwoman, Megan, with a frying pan before being teleported to an alien ship that features Graystairs patients neurally hooked up to a computer in what we later find out to be a parallel processing array. Ace gets to be a hero here, in addition to being something of a badass. She plies her heroics on the ship solo and eludes that albino, whom we find out is named Sooal and guess what planet he's from. His motives lie far away from curing Alzheimer's.

Ace ends up in the North Sea where she meets up with a certain diver and, if you don't want some major spoilers, skip this paragraph. She finds out that she's near the Orkney Islands, hundreds of miles away from Muirbridge. In a neat twist, Ace sends a postcard to The Doctor pleading for rescue. He gets it in 2012 along with Joyce's missive. There are eventually two Aces running around Muirbridge which, after you find this out and think back, explains some of the mysterious occurrences from earlier in the book. Michalowski handles this little temporal discommotion very well.

Spoilers over.

At one point in the story, The Doctor gets hooked up to the array on the space ship and has a couple visions. One involves Leela, which he realizes is a memory from his past, but the other is of a lone, baleful gray eye looking at him through a broken window that shimmered orange and brown and yellow. It whispers to The Doctor and asks if he'd forgotten him already. The Doctor ponders this vision at the end of the story and I am wondering if it will be addressed in another of these PDAs.

Being set in the time period of the show's last season, Relative Dementias does include some Cartmel Masterplany stuff. The mysterious vision is one element that can be ascribed to it. Another is Brunner's son, Michael. Michael is in UNIT, or rather was in UNIT. He's gone AWOL and is wrestling with telling his mother. His decision to desert his post came from much anger and confusion. Amongst the reasons is The Doctor who, although he has helped humanity, has also been responsible for the deaths of many people including Michael's friends and comrades in arms. It's a far cry from intimations about The Doctor's mysterious past but I think it fits in with an overall darker view of him and engenders some ambivalence about him as well. This is something that have fit well in the last season of the New Series.

Michalowski generally keeps his characterizations of The Doctor and Ace within the boundaries set by the TV series. I've noticed that there's a general consensus amongst fans that, for the 7th Doctor, portraying him and Ace in a way that is consonant with how they were portrayed on TV is a good thing. (Conversely, fans of the 6th Doctor books praise authors who portray him in a less acerbic manner than he was on TV and more like the character that Colin Baker and Big Finish developed for their audios.) And I suppose it is. This certainly gives the books a certain familiarity. On the other hand, I am curious if any of the authors tweaked the characters a bit. I'm not looking for a 180 but for some development, some expansion. So far I haven't found that in the PDAs but it may happen yet. I'm not complaining, mind you. Perhaps the Virgin New Adventures take our beloved heroes in new directions. I shall find out.

With Ace being separated from The Doctor for quite a while and the fact that she takes charge, saves people, and kicks a little butt, it's easier to see how she is a precursor to the companions of the New Series. While there's no Nitro 9 here, Ace is a partner to The Doctor and not simply a damsel in distress and/or springboard for the Timelord to relay his deductions. Michalowski portrays her as capable, smart, and independent yet also as a teenager still figuring out what it means to be an adult. She blushes when meeting a cute young man yet is able to adjust to being thrust onto an alien space ship like a consummate pro.

Relative Dementias kept mostly to the blueprint established by the TV show but it tweaked the formula a little bit. There are more subsidiary characters here and it was fun to read as Michalowski established them independently and then drew them all together. Plus there's Michal who views The Doctor as someone who brings death in his wake as opposed to a savior to humanity. But it's mostly The Doctor and Ace battling an alien baddie. The time travel twist was icing on the cake.
|| Palmer, 6:56 PM || link || (0) comments |

The Thing in 60 Seconds With Pingu

Pingu is, according to Wikipedia, "a British-Swiss stop-motion claymated television series...about a family of anthropomorphic penguins at the South Pole."

|| Palmer, 8:22 AM || link || (0) comments |