Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Did The Same Thing Happen to Chris Carter?

Salutations, Wary Readers!

If you've read just one of my blog posts then you're already well aware that I have a distinct contempt for authority figures.  If you've read every single one of my blog entries then you probably believe that this bitter hatred is a symptom of being screwed over by unscrupulous corporate pinheads.  Well, you're absolutely wrong and everything you've read thus far has clearly failed to provide even the most basic insight into my mindset and all of that wasted time would have been better served digging trenches in your front yard and then filling them back in again.

Seriously, folks, thanks for reading.

No, the cold, hard truth that supposedly "responsible" adults don't always have your best interests in mind was revealed to me even earlier then that.  It all started with a very odd event that happened to me and my school-mates back around Grade Five or Six.  It's a memory that's haunted me for so long that I'm not even sure if it happened anymore.  Only a small handful of people who attended St. Stephen's Elementary School in Stephenville, Newfoundland in the early Eighties would be able to corroborate this for me, and I really hope that they do.  Maybe then the hallucinatory feelings I harbor over this event will finally be dispelled.

When I first saw the The X-Files  back in 1993 the show made a huge impact on me.  Thinking about this story again, it's not hard to understand why.  It's because, as a ten year old kid, I experienced something that could very well have dovetailed with that show's bizarre and elaborate mythology.  Something oddly conspiratorial which planted the seeds of distrust I harbor towards authority figures to this very day. 

One fateful morning our regular school routine was interrupted by some unusual visitors.  A doctor, accompanied by a small gaggle of nurses, went from classroom to classroom, telling us about a proposed experiment they intended to conduct.  Even as a nine or ten year old kid, I thought that these people seemed kinda suspicious.  First off, the doctor looked like this:

Okay, I'm kidding here; the doctor didn't look like Nick Riviera, but he was unfamiliar to me.  There were only a small handful of doctors practicing in our small town at the time, and this guy didn't look like any of them.  He looked like an outsider.  I can't really explain it but he looked too "doctor-ish" to me, like he was trying too hard to look like a doctor.  Kinda like this clown:

I wish I could remember his name.  It was probably Dr. Fakenstein, Practitioner of Deceit.  Or Dr. Fibby McLiarson, M.D.

The M.D., by the way, stands for "Medical Deviate".             

His harem of nurses were also suspect, tarted up in  "methinks thou dost protest too much" uniforms, or what my memory has since come to interpret as cheap costumes picked up from Spirit Halloween.

No, that picture's not quite right, even if it is kinda rad.  A-hem.  Sorry.  This is more like it:

Notwithstanding the fact that the chick in the photo is Asian and we only had two (potentially frightened) Asian families in Stephenville at the time, there was just something off about these people.  With my Spidey-Sense™ already a-tingle after laying eyes on these shysters, it suddenly kicked into hyper-drive just as soon as Dr. Giggles opened his cake-hole to speak.

"Hi, kids!"  Dr. Loki began, looking evasive.  "We're here as part of a new medical program to help determine what your health might be like as grown-ups.  By the time our tests are complete we should be able to predict your likelihood of developing serious ailments as an adult like strokes, heart disease, and diabetes.  And all we need to to do to determine this is just get a little sample of your BLOOD."

Okay, at the time, Dr. Quackenface probably didn't put quite that much emphasis on the word "blood" but that's just how I remember it, okay?

With silent complicity from both the principal and the teachers, these hucksters then handed out waiver forms to bring back to our parents to sign.  I promptly "lost" mine for a few days until the teacher finally insisted that I promptly "find it" again and bring it back bearing my parent's signatures.

I finally caved in and showed the form to my folks, who immediately dismissed my concerns as rampant  paranoia.  I begged and cajoled for them not to sign it. 

"Nonsense," they insisted, sealing my fate with a Bic stick pen.  "Sounds like a great idea."

"But...but...," I babbled, determined to present my case.  "I don't trust this doctor!  He's an outlander.  He doesn't even look like he's old enough to shave!  And the nurse...she's Asian fer Chrissakes!"

"Watch your mouth!" my parents snapped.  "Chinese people make great nurses.  Besides, you're just scared of getting a needle."

Were my parents right?  Was my stark fear of getting punctured clouding my judgement of what, at face value at least, sounded like a noble study?  But as I thought back to the medical mannequins that spoke to us in class that day, I still harbored some serious trepidations.  In spite of this, what else could I do?  My parents had already signed the warrant and my teacher was expecting it back.  There would be no stay of execution for me and most of my terrified schoolmates.      

I took the waiver sheet back to school the next day without any more fuss.  When the appointed day came the following week I faced my fate with grim resolve.

Admittedly, the morning started out rather pleasantly.  Instead of our normal routine, the camp guards...er, teachers led us across the parking lot to the gym where we were fed a specially-appointed breakfast which was supposed to be conducive to our "test".  I can't quite remember exactly what we ate that morning, but I'm willing to wager that it was likely a bowl of unsweetened Cheerios soaked in blood thinner-tainted milk.

The cheerful breakfast allowed us to forget about the looming threat somewhat, but as the nom-nom-noms started to wind down a palpable cloud of dread rolled in like a fog.  This mood became even more pronounced during the Bataan-style Death March back to the school.  The aura of discord slowly began to mutate into full-blown terror.  Some perceptive kids tried to heed their flight impulses and make a break for it but they were quickly wrangled by the fleet-footed teachers, who were strategically positioned around the perimeter.

As we were herded like cattle down into the bowels of the school, panic amongst the prepubescent throng flared up like a viral outbreak.  The distinct sounds of weeping and pleading could be heard.  My undropped testicles crept further into my body cavity like frightened woodland creatures.  

Like a veteran of Da Nang, I can only describe the rest of what I witnessed that morning in snippets.  I remember kids being strapped to gurneys.  I remember fraudulent Asian nurses getting punched in the mush.  I remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth as if I'd suddenly been incarcerated in the Eight Circle of Dante's Inferno.              

I tried to be a good little soldier that morning, even as the incompetent nurses punctured my arm no less then four times trying to tap into my tiny, resilient veins.

By mid-day it was all over.  Several parents were summoned to the school to recover their shell-shocked offspring, many of them so pasty they made Edward Cullen look like George Hamilton.  Those who initially opted to stay became victims of attrition.  As the day wore on, most of the students were overcome with dizzy spells and were promptly sent home.  Eventually the teachers gave up trying to teach us anything.  Our small contingent of dazed and logy survivors were left to wander free-range around the classroom to rock back and forth, mutter to themselves, assume fetal positions and/or re-evaluate their priorities.   

Of course, this was back when I was a spineless milksop who would never think of using a legitimately traumatic event as an excuse to go home early.  No, by God, if I wasn't legitimately dizzy, I wasn't going to lie and say that I was.  So, by the time 3 pm rolled around the only two people still left in our homeroom class was me and another sucker named Randy Penton.  Eventually our teacher told us to get the f#@$ out.

I think this was the first time I became laconic and uncommunicative when my parents asked me that obligatory question: "What did you do in school today?"  I think I even out-sulked Kristen Stewart that afternoon.  And yes, I'm well aware that I've made two Twilight references in this blog entry but what can I say, I'm in a fragile mental space right now.

The weirdest part about it all: no one, any I mean no-one, ever mentioned this again.  We, the students, talked about it occasionally, purely for therapeutic reasons.  But our discussions were always whispered, fleeting, hushed.  Our principal and teachers, on the other hand, never breathed a word about it again.  And the real pièce de résistance: we never did get a letter back from this supposed doctor as to what their "findings" were.

Occasionally my parent might lift the scab on this mental wound by lamenting: "Hey, whatever happened with that whole 'blood test thing' they did for you guys in school?  Never did hear back from that crowd.  Pretty queer thing, eh?"      

Yes, pretty queer indeed.  Can you imagine if that happened to a bunch of ten year old kids now?  Can you say "class action lawsuit"?  

So, I pose this question to you, Gentle Readers: what the hell happened to us on that fateful day?   Was it a legitimate test and the authorities only contacted those families who's children displayed a chance for medical peril?  Or do I have an entire army of evil clones roaming amongst the stars?

The truth, as they say, is out there.       

EPIC:  This memory (and some independent research) really makes me think twice about things like the highly-vaunted "flu shot".


FAIL:  Another creepy/sad story from a few years ago...  



Although I'm still hopeful for an X-Files resurgence, movies like I Want To Believe are unlikely to help... 


Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Despirate Plea For Attention

Greetings, Voracious Readers!

Some people have been asking me how the book's been doing lately, and I gotta say, pretty durned good for a tome that's had little to no formal promotion.

It certainly helps when some sweet readers actually take the time to provide some feedback.  For a writer that doesn't have the ability to hit the road on a Grateful Dead-style book tour, reviews and comments are indispensable.  Here are a few things people have said about the novel thus far:

Not Your Average "Cookie Cutter" Fantasy Novel

"Are you tired of reading the same old cookie cutter epic fantasy novels that are chalk full of those mundane 'fantasy ingredients'? Do you want to bite into a whole new fantasy tasty treat? Then this book is worth the read.

Mr. Pretty has created a very in depth world filled with a rich history and dozens of complex characters who never fall in to the basic 'good or evil' category. Pretty is not afraid to tell this tale from the POV of some very unlikable, even immoral characters. As the plot progresses new truths will be revealed that will challenge your impressions and assumptions about their ethics. Your opinion of these characters will constantly change as Pretty takes them on a journey of a lifetime.

A note of warning that this book is not for those of you who like the typically happy 'fantasy ending'...it is dark, gritty, and emotional. It is a risky move which I found pays off and serves the story as a whole."

I'm glad this reviewer mentions the moral ambiguity of the characters since that was a major motivation to write the book in the first place.  I really don't believe that people are arbitrarily good or evil, I just think that self-motivation often has a major impact on the perception of human behavior.  And to take this concept even further, (and to borrow a trope from Dungeons & Dragons) a person's "alignment" is often dictated by how people regard this motivation.

For example, Adolph Hitler, justifiably regarded as history's greatest monster, was initially adored by the majority of his people.  Hell, he was even voted Time magazine's "Man of the Year" in 1938.  Initially, he was perceived as a strong leader who cast off his country's economic burdens, thumbed his nose at foreign pressures, and brought pride and prosperity back to his nation.  In fact, even after Germany became an aggressor state and started to openly persecute of some of it's most hallowed citizens, the lion's share of people still didn't regard the Nazis as completely evil.  And that's because people still believed in the motivation or were too frightened to speak out against the motivation.

I'm also quite thankful for the reviewer's honest thoughts about the ending.  Indeed, if people don't feel a tremendous sense of needless waste and loss by the end of the book, I've failed.  After all, if I'm going to make the bold claim that Brother's Keeper is influenced by Greek and Shakespearan tragedy, then I damned well better deliver the goods.  Despite all of the costly and painful personal casualties, I hope that most people realize that the world depicted in my novel is still a better place in the end.              

Oh, and I also dig the phrase "fantasy tasty treat".  Makes me think of an ice cream cone with sprinkles on top.

Here's another review:

Leaves You Wanting More 

"The novel, 'Brother's Keeper', is very much a character driven novel. The author, David Pretty, manages to adopt a yin yang approach when creating his cast. The good are not saintly, the villains are not demonic. They all feel very real and very flawed, just like you and I. 

Although 'Brother's Keeper' is by definition, a fantasy novel, I found it to be very well grounded. There was nothing jarring or out of place that would remove you from the moment. Everything was very believable. The settings seemed fertile, warm and beautiful or windswept, cold and harsh by turn. 

The author takes no pity on any of his characters whether it is by placing them in heat of battle on the open seas or in the midst of family strife. I found that much like George R.R. Martin's 'Game of Thrones', I wanted to keep reading, almost looking for pages at the end of the book because I was left wondering what happens to these characters next. I am very much looking forward to the next instalment of 'The Death Quest Saga'."

Words can't express how proud I am that both of these reviews mentioned the depth of characterization.  If anything, I was really hoping that readers would get attached to my Rogues Gallery of characters and that they "come alive" in some capacity.

I also hope that I've forged a world that's "believable" to a reader.  I didn't want to bury people under an avalanche of boring minutia, so instead I tried to drop little references and tidbits here and there just to give the setting enough flavor to seem "real".  Likely Volume II will be more grounded in the book's mise-en-scène, but since I had a lot of story to tell in Brother's Keeper, I didn't want the reader to slog through anything that wasn't related to the overall plot.

And although Brother's Keeper is fairly self-contained, there is a plot thread that I deliberately left dangling  to build Volume II's foundation around.  Although I took great pains to complete the premise set up in the first Volume, hopefully I've also left enough unanswered questions to give readers some incentive to check out the next installment.  In the end I hope that people are left hanging on the edge of "evolution" just enough to make them curious as to what comes next.

And then there's this one:

Excellent First Novel

"After reading the first novel from David Pretty I got way more than I originally expected. It is full of detailed description of characters and situations that actually make you feel as if you were right there with them. The story line just seems to keep you reading as you feel like you know the characters and have a thriving need to know what happens to them next. 

Also, the way the novel is written explains in detail how the characters are feeling at certain moments and the reader just feels like they are in that character's shoes. One gets empathetic towards the characters almost instantly upon beginning to read. 

I personally recommend this read and look forward to more from this author. Keep up the great work David and thanks for this awesome tale!"

There are certain things that writers always love to hear from readers:
  1. "You exceeded my expectations."
  2. "I believed what happened in the book."
  3. "The story was propulsive and it kept me reading."
Having said that, I suspect that formal literary circles would probably lambaste me for employing an omniscient point of view in the novel.  But I wouldn't have done it any other way since the characters were so diverse and interesting that I just couldn't resist putting the reader right into their heads.  I'm sure some people will consider these transitions jarring, but I really wanted people to get emotionally invested in the characters and experience all of their highs and lows.

And then finally, here's one from Stephen Patrick Clare, the publishers of Arts East here in Halifax:

"Extremely well-written, with a solid storyline and strong narrative arc - insightful, informative, entertaining and enlightening - a book that is certainly worthy of greater national attention."

This was great because Stephen isn't what I'd describe as big "genre" fan.  I never intended to write some sort of insular, nerdy fantasy book loaded with all kinds of clunky lore and convoluted references.  I just wanted to write a contemporary story about family conflict, dangerous secrets, personal tragedy and blind ambition.   The fantasy elements are about as incidental as the ghost in Hamlet, the Three Witches in MacBeth and the Sphinx and Oracle in Oedipus Rex.    

It's also very encouraging to hear someone say that the book is worthy of national attention.  Indeed Brother's Keeper holds very little appeal to regional, Maritime publishers with their single-minded devotion to "slice of life" tales, Christmas stories, kid's books and ghost anthologies.  If my novel is ever going to flourish, it has to be picked up by a major publisher and then diligently marketed and delivered to its target audience.

In addition to getting some encouraging comments from readers, I'm also doing whatever I can personally to drive up the book's profile.

For example, Brother's Keeper is now available through my local library system. And just last week I designed a cinema-style trailer for the book with the help if iMovie, some public domain images from the interwebs and the stirring music of Carl Orff.    

So, things are pretty good at the moment.  I'm still hoping that my book gets picked up by a major publisher and then transformed into a popular edition.  The promotion and distribution channels that would open up for me would be staggering.  This would also give me some definitive incentive to proclaim myself a real writer as opposed to "call center bait", which I'm likely to become in 2012 unless a more suitable offer comes down the pike. 

The dream's still alive folks.  Keep your fingers crossed for me...

EPIC:  My next goal: become a member of this exclusive club

FAIL:  I don't know if it's a comment on the state of our society but Walter The Farting Dog is far from a publishing failure.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Hello, Fellow Geeks and Geek-ettes!

On Saturday, November 12'th, I had the privilege of witnessing first hand the triumphant, full-circle resuscitation of Hal-Con: the Maritime's oldest Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror/ Gaming/Comic Book festival.  The con originally had it's start back in the Mesozoic era (i.e. the 1970's), but unfortunately it suffered a premature demise in the 1990's.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that I may have attended the last original Hal-Con w-a-a-a-a-a-a-y back 'round 1995 when it was still being held at the Ramada in Dartmouth.

I absolutely loved attending that event.  At the time I was collecting Magic:The Gathering and Star Wars Customizable Card Game singles like a rat on cocaine, so I was super-excited to have all the local vendors (and a few I didn't recognize) under one convenient roof.  I was delighted to see model builders showing off their geeky wares.  I had a blast browsing through boxes of scarce and obviously-well-cared-for comic books.  I was heartened by the sight of people playing traditional board games, which I'd tragically fallen out of at the time.  I was excited to see all of the creative, imaginative costumes that people were dressed up in, particularly the boisterous Klingon Kontingent.

Above all, I was super-excited to meet the actors.  I got a chance to listen to Dave "Darth Vader" Prowse tell some cheeky 'behind the scenes' Star Wars stories.  I witnessed Star Trek scribe D.C. Fontana thrill an entire room packed with people all wearing pointy ears and forehead ridges. I even enjoyed hearing Brian Thompson (who at the time was playing the Alien Bounty Hunter in The X-Files) rant about how the hotel's dry cleaning service had ruined his favorite white shirt.

So, that's what happened: Brian Thompson probably murdered all of the original organizers with his bare hands!

Just to prove that this amazing event actually happened, here are two game cards that Brian and David signed for me:

Before I go any further, I do need to give a quick shout-out to another mini-Con that occurred with some frequency here in Halifax.  Even though Fleet Con eventually went bottoms-up as well, it certainly helped to keep organized genre fandom alive in the region during those lean years.  Although nominally organized and promoted, Fleet Con did succeed in bringing together board gamers, Klingons, anime fans, LARPers, vendors, model makers and dudes who have a fetish for dressing up in stormtrooper armor.

After the original organizer packed it in, Fleet Con vanished like the Tardis.  Fortunately for us, however, some industrious folks were laboring away behind the scenes in an attempt to resurrect the venerable Hal-Con.  When it was first announced that the event's second kick at the can would be held on October 29-31, 2010 at the Lord Nelson hotel in Halifax, we we all super-excited.  

Indeed, Hal-Con was supposed to be the great geeky hope to replace Fleet Con for us.  Unfortunately the organizers failed to provide the most basic convenience which essentially dampened the experience for us rabid board gamers.  Here’s the (admittedly harsh) post-mortem email I sent to the organizers after it was all over:

“Well, with the 2010 Hal-Con now behind us I felt compelled to email over a few of my thoughts. 

I'd like to start by saying that just as soon as the event was announced myself and four other friends all rushed out and got weekend passes. 

Although I'm happy that the event seemed to be well-attended (and hopefully successful from a financial standpoint) we were all very disappointed that there seemed to be absolutely no open space where we could just throw down and play some of the board games we'd picked up in the vendor room.  When we rushed out and bought those passes we just assumed that there would be some space to play a board game, read a graphic novel, 'ooooh' and 'ahhh' over our vendor room acquisitions, check out people in costume or just sit around and gab. 

In fact, as far as we could tell, there were only three tiny little broom-closet sized rooms on the third floor for gaming which were already spoken for by preregistered players. BOOO!!!

Because we weren't provided any place to 'hang out' (I've been told veteran con-attendees refer to it as a 'Consuite'?), we really had no incentive to stick around.  In fact, a bunch of us had to go across the street to Rockbottom Brewery just to eke out a place to play some of the games we bought.  Oddly, we found that the late, great Fleetcon, with it's on-site snack options and proliferation of free table space was much more conducive to a good time (for us at least).    

All told, I only felt compelled to spend a few hours there all weekend (and some of my friends, even less).  In fact, I'm just considering my $45.00 entrance fee this year to be a donation. 

On a more more positive note, there seemed to be a lot of enthusiastic attendees, a good assortment of vendors, the central location was convenient and I got to meet Denise Crosby.  Yaaay!!!

Overall, I really wish you folks well and hope that my concerns are addressed for next year.  I likely won't be getting a weekend pass again because of this and the guest list will be a major factor as to whether or not I go at all.  Trust me when I say this: we want to keep supporting unique events like this in in our region, but alas, we're gonna need more incentive next year to consider attending.”

Just a side note: Denise "Tasha Yar" Crosby was indeed a real delight.  I got her to sign a photo for a huge Star Trek geek in our family, which gave me a convenient excuse to chat with her.  I think she liked talking to me because I was the only dude in the lineup who wasn't wearing pointy ears or grilling her over how her cabin number on the Enterprise could possibly have changed between Episode 3 and Episode 21 of Next Gen.  Instead, I just asked her if she'd been to Nova Scotia before, recommended a trip out to Peggy's Cove and then told her that she was awesome in Dexter.  She even gave her only button away to me!

Well, after the previous year's debacle, we reasoned that Hal-Con 2012 could only go up for us.  Despite our optimism, we could only bring ourselves to purchase a day pass.  And let me tell ya folks, this year the Hal-Con organizers really made me kick myself for being so conservative.  In fact, on November 12'th, 2011, Hal-Con launched into the stratosphere faster then a Soyuz rocket!  Although I look back and wince at the brutal emails we sent to the organizers last year, I really do believe that they took our advice and made some really astute improvements.   

After our traditional breakfast at Cora’s @ 8 am we rallied and ventured forth.  We left the restaurant around 9:15, which was a bit later then I would have preferred since the doors were supposed to open at 9 am and I knew it was going to be busy.  My persistently patient significant other dropped me and a friend off at the doors while my two other homies hoofed down to the World Trade and Convention Center.

Still paranoid that we wouldn't get a table for gaming, my line-mate got her media pass and then went straight through to try and secure a spot.  Despite the early hour, the line-ups were huge, but moving briskly.  After I got registered, I quickly rushed upstairs to the massive game room to locate my line-breezing compadre.  As soon as I saw the arena-sized space allocated to gaming, all of my trepidations melted away.  The Hal-Con organizers really went above and beyond the call of duty to provide ample free table/crashdown space for everyone.

As if this wasn’t awesome enough, the vendor section had been heavily expanded.  There were at least four, double-lined halls filled chock-a-block with boardgames, toys, shirts, posters, vintage collectibles, jewelry, dice, keychains, costumes, accessories, comic books, video games and I think I even saw a Spaceballs-brand flame-thrower.

I also jumped at the chance to meet some of the guests, chief amongst them Erin Gray, a.k.a. Wilma Deering from T.V's Buck Rodgers in the 25'th Century.  In my first blog about formative television I talked about the impact this goofy show had on me as a kid.  Despite the sometimes questionable merits of the production, I have Erin to partially thank for confirming my heterosexuality even at the tender age of nine.     

In addition to her role in Buck Rogers, I first saw Erin as Kate Summers opposite a very young Rick (nee Ricky) Schroeder and Jason Bateman in Silver Spoons.  She also appeared in such diverse fare as Magnum P.I., Murder, She Wrote and in the ninth Friday the 13'th flick Jason Goes to Hell.  In 1996, Erin established "Heroes for Hire" a talent agency which specializes in booking Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror celebrities for special events.  Pretty cool, huh?  

As she signed my Buck Rogers DVD I asked her if all the crazy weather we'd experienced the day before had interfered with her travel plans.  She told me that she'd been lucky enough to get out of L.A.just ahead of a nasty storm system and also managed to avoid the torrential rain and wind that had cancelled flights into Halifax the day before. She expressed concern for her daughter Samantha on the East Coast, since her region had also been hit pretty hard with power outages and flooding.

I also had a chance to compliment Erin's recent turn in Felicia Day's amazing web-series The Guild, where she plays a Wilma Deering-esque character.   

"Wow!" she enthused, addressing me and her assistant/agent.  "It's amazing how many people are talking about The Guild!  It's great!"

I thanked her, shook her hand and wished her a great weekend.  Proud that I'd managed to avoid any  Vork-like fanboy behavior, I gathered up my swag and went back to our table where the boardgames had already begun.

En route I also noticed local behemoth Robert Maillet milling around amongst the crowd.  Known for his stint in the WWE as "Kurgan" as well as screen appearances in Zack Snyder's 300 as well as Sherlock Holmes, Robert seemed to be reveling in the con atmosphere just as much as all the insignificant humanoids were who were constantly jockeying for his attention. I was tempted to go over and ask him what it was like to plow Tony Stark in the mush if I didn't harbor an irrational fear of a live demonstration.  

Also in attendance was human Valkyrie Drakaina Muse.  After signing autographs and posing in her stunning Crimson DK outfit, Drak gladly did her rounds, meeting fans and graciously posing for about a hojillion photos.  Her gregarious personality and large then life...um, presence, certainly explains why the French-born hottie has inspired well over 250 works of fantasy art.  Here she is posing with a wonderful Wonder Woman and L'il Thor, which I'm sure is how Drak would describe her spine after wearing this outfit for twelve hours. 

While my posse was finishing up a round of Mr. Jack Pocket and prepping for a game of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in honor Nicholas Brendon, I took the opportunity to get some mileage out of my last Halloween costume:

I started to walk around the convention floor, pausing every once and awhile to take a pic with other thematically suitable cos-players:

Man, Jean Gray's eyes are really freakin' me out back there...

My peeps also soon discovered that it's "not wise to upset a Wolvie":


After the Scoobies set the mood for Nicholas Brendon's Q&A by annihilating Adam in a rousing game of Buffy, a couple of us dashed off to catch the presentation.  With his natural comedic talent augmented by Joss Whedon's hilarious dialogue,  Nick effortlessly made Xander one of the funniest and most memorable characters on the show.  As it turns out, he's pretty damned hilarious even while making up his own lines!

We went to the main hall fairly early to ensure a seat and then promptly walked smack dab right into a Klingon Konvention, Maritime-style:

The local Klingon Assault Group was conducting a ceremony in honor of J.G. Hertzler, who played  Chancellor Martok in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  A few interesting facts about Monsieur Hertzler:

  1. He seems to love the convention experience, even dressing up in full Martok/Klingon regalia for the presentation.
  2. He was born in Savannah, Georgia.  Out of character he speaks with a very cool southern accent, which makes his original performance as Martok all the more interesting to me.
  3. He's probably the most approachable con guest I've ever encountered.  He shook my hand on the way out of the hall and was even nice enough to leave most of my phalanges and metacarpals intact.
  4. He has a wicked sense of humor, playfully cutting up Nick Brendon as his fans waited in line for his autograph.   "What is this person's appeal?" he demanded. 
  5. Had funds and time permitted, I would love to have met him and gotten him to sign something.  I shant make the same mistake twice.  The dude is awesome! 
Eventually the Klingon Kombat Kore moved on, presumably to pick a fight with the pasty, frightened  Federation types wandering around and possibly annex an entire "Subway" location.

Nick Brendon's Q&A was fantastic.  Here are a few choice highlights:
  1. Thanks to Nick, at least three female members of the audience likely left Hal-Con with a " baby in their belly".
  2. Water bottles can strategically be used to cover up crotch holes.
  3. While shooting "The Pack", Nick got pantsed on set by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan. Yeah, guess who wasn't wearing their Underoos™ that day?
  4.  He'd been to Halifax to shoot a movie before and even visited the Home of Confederation/Provincial Sandbar P.T.A (i.e....P.E.I.) where he stayed at a hotel with a golf course.  He didn't play golf but he did see some potatoes.
  5. Joss Whedon actually wrote the role of "Captain Tightpants" (a.k.a. Mal Reynolds in Firefly) with Nicholas in mind.  Unfortunately, Fox picked up the pilot before Nick could leave Buffy, forcing Joss to cast Nathan Fillion in the lead role.
  6. Nicholas auditioned to be on How I Met Your Mother but didn't get the roll partially because the producers were concerned about having too many Buffy alumni in the cast.  *Pfffttt!*...as if there could ever be such a thing! 
  7. He was shooting a pilot when Buffy ended, so he wasn't on set during those last few days.  Although missing this farewell still inspires nightmares, he couldn't imagine doing it any other way for fear of being emotionally crippled.
  8. One of Nick's consistent nightmares: not being included in an imaginary Buffy Season Eight! 
  9. His reaction to hypothetically encountering a real life vampire:  incontinence!
  10. He implored fans to keep writing to the producers of Criminal Minds to keep his recurring character Kevin Lynch...well, recurring.   
  11. Voted "Hal-Con Guest Most Likely To Lose His Wallet".
  12.  Snoopy dance!
After the presentation, we went straight into Nick's autograph session.  Understandably, after killing it with the audience, the lineup to get his signature was freakin' insane.  When it was my chance to meet him, I thanked him heartily for the awesome Q&A and then told him that my significant other would likely beat me to death with a sack of rusty doorknobs if I didn't get her "Once More With Feeling" soundtrack signed.  He laughed and signed both the CD and one of my Buffy comics.  

Back at the gaming table, Dean, Chad, and Malcolm had already plowed through a butt-load of cool games like Perry Rhodan, Summoner Wars, and Quarriors!   I managed to sneak in a tense session of the dice-chucking Love(craft)-fest Elder Sign.  Like its big daddy, Arkam Horror, players take on the role of investigators, trying to collect Elder Signs by overcoming tests and challenges whilst trying to prevent the Doom Track from filling up.  Unlike its parent game, this game actually appears to be winnable.

Hungry, tired and spazzed out from all the concentrated geekery, we eventually decided to push off around 6 pm.  On the way out we all agreed that the World Trade and Convention Center was a fantastic new venue for Hal-Con.  We all vowed to go back again next year, this time properly armed with two day passes in order to reconcile all the game playing, panel attendance, Q&A's, costume contests, vendor browsing, photographs and signatures.

Stellar job, Hal-Con organizers!  Please take this blog entry as a formal apology for my chippy email from last year...


My humble video apology/love letter to Hal-Con 2011:

EPIC-CON  Felicia Day attempts to lead her fellow Guildies through the hazardous realm of Mega-Game-O-Rama-Con.  I can relate.  P.S. Part 7 and onward features the lovely and talented Erin Gray!

<a href='http://www.bing.com/videos/browse?mkt=en-us&vid=y02jncib&from={from}&src=FLPl:embed::uuids' target='_new' title='Season 5 - Episode 1 - Road Trip!' >Video: Season 5 - Episode 1 - Road Trip!</a>

FAIL Mercifully I didn't see any costumes as heinous as what's documented here:


Monday, November 7, 2011

T.V. or not T.V.? - Part VI - Eclipse

Yak Sya Mayesh, Gentle Readers!

American beat poet Gil Scott-Heron once wrote "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised".  That's a pretty cool sentiment, but I wonder if he ever anticipated the revolution of televison itself?

Since I've already done five previous segments about the medium I wanted to provide a convenient table of contents if'n you ever wanna go back and read the whole story from the very beginning...

Part I  In which the author as a young man first discovers the miraculous, omnipresent, entertainment box.

Part II    "Portrait of a T.V.-Addicted Pre-Teen

Part III  Yours truly manages to detect a few precious bits of wheat amongst the mountain-sized heaps of prime-time chaff.

Part IV  I'm forced to eat crow after publicly declaring that T.V. is a vast wasteland.  

Part V  Reaping the benefits from a sudden abundance of entertainment-related riches.

Now for the big reveal: all of these previous posts are leading up up to one particular admission: that television has supplanted movies as my primary entertainment drug of choice.

And with that confession I've probably set an entire legion of tongues a-waggin' with calls of  "Heresy!",  "Sacrilege!" and/or "Burn the demented one!"  But I stand by my claim.  Yes, prime time television is still largely produced by and for the mentally infirm, but cable T.V. continues to wow and amaze me.  

Ladies and gentlemen of the entertainment jury, please direct your attention to Exhibits "A" through "C" if you may:

Supernatural (2005 to present)    

Supernatural is the heir apparent to such shows as The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even Kolchak: The Night Stalker.   Basically the premise has the Winchester brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) gallivanting across British Columbia (doubling as the continental U.S.) in their bitchin' 67' Impala, encountering urban legends, hauntings, weird phenomenon and eventually some major spiritual movers and/or shakers.  

The show was brought to my attention by the same wise soul who first recommended Buffy The Vampire Slayer to me.  Just like that particular program, I was first put off by the concept of Supernatural.  To me it just seemed like an excuse to depict two flyweight, pretty-boy actors in some over-stylized and nominally scary scenarios.  And frankly, the bulk of Season One did little to sway my first impression.

The series begins with an admittedly chilling flashback in which Sam and Dean's mom Mary (Samantha Smith) is killed by demonic forces when she's pulled onto the ceiling and then spontaneously combusts (!).  This horrific occurrence compels their father John to hunt down and destroy the supernatural forces that inhabit the dark corners of the world.  He drags Sam and Dean along to keep watch over them and to pass on some much-needed survival skills.  Naturally this results in a less-then-normal childhood and considerable resentment between the three of them.

After Sam has a falling out with his dad and brother, he leaves the spook-slaying behind to pursue a relatively normal life as a student at Standford University.  In the pilot, Dean is forced to drag Sam back into the lifestyle after John goes missing on a solo excursion.  At the end of the episode, Sam tries to return to his old life but something terrible happens, forcing him to realize that his destiny is unavoidable.  Soon the two re-united brothers hit the road to locate their missing pops and gank as many creepy McNasties as they can along the way. 

Although this certainly sounds like a cool premise, the first ten episodes are completely self-contained and do very little to establish the show's milieu or storyline.  In addition, the dialogue is rife with faux-clever macho comebacks and one-liners that sound as if a sixth grader tried to re-dub an R-rated film.   Also, both leads are still feeling each other out and the camaraderie and confidence that makes later episodes so memorable is pretty scarce in the first half of Season One.

But then something incredible happens at the mid-way point.  In Episode 11, entitled "Scarecrow" (directed by the late, great X-Files alum Kim Manners), Sam insists that they keep pursuing their father even after he's ordered his sons to investigate a series of Children of the Corn-style disappearances.  During their separation, Dean gets in way over his head and Sam encounters a young, cute, hitchhiker named Meg (Nicki Aycox) who may not be the free-spirit she seems to be.  

From here on in, the show builds up more and more momentum.  Looking to avoid the same fate as the The X-Files (which eventually collapsed under the convoluted weight of its own mythology), the writers of Supernatural always resolve dangling story threads before adding another layer of depth.  Even stand-alone episodes might contain one or two scenes that acknowledge the overarching plot and contribute to its resolution.  The show is also notorious for ending on some pretty brutal cliffhangers. 

Supernatural is also truly blessed by the incredible chemistry of the two leads.  Jared Padalicki and Jensen Ackles are clearly on good terms and this really sells the fraternal bond between the two of them.  The supporting cast is well-rounded out with Jeffrey Dean Morgan as John Winchester, Jim Beaver as the boy's grouchy alterna-pop Bobby, Misha Collins as the woe-begotten and morose angel Castiel, flinty Samantha Ferris as a matronly hunter named Ellen and the beautiful Alona Tal as her daughter Jo.  

The show really has come a long way.  One week might feature a genuinely creepy one-shot like "Family Remains", "Everybody Loves A Clown", or "The Benders".  The next week might be something that takes the concept of "meta" to hilarious new heights such as "Changing Channels", "The Real Ghostbusters" or "The French Mistake".  And the week after that you could be faced with a gut-wrenching, top-shelf dramatic entry like "No Rest For The Wicked", "Swan Song" and "Abandon All Hope".  Trust me, not very many televisions shows have the ability to pull off such authentic tonal dexterity.

You have to respect a show that had a five year story plan but continued on after an overwhelming flood of fan support.  I just finished Season Six and, let me testify, Kind Reader, it's just as good if not better then anything that preceded it.  

Here's cool promo video for Season One.  I'm pretty sure Jared Padalecki's testes hadn't even dropped when this was filmed.  Man, he looks young...       

Spartacus: Blood and Sand  (2010-present)

Here's another program that I really didn't care for at first but ultimately it won me over.  Executives at Fox should see this as a lesson well-learned: new shows really need ample time to flesh themselves out and find their audience.  Mercifully I stuck with this one beyond it's uninspired pilot and eventually the show went from a titillating curiosity to one of the best things I've ever seen in my life.  

Apologies to anyone who may have already read this on my entertainment-related review blog, but this show really does deserve a second mention.  

Spartcus: Blood and Sand tells the story of a Thracian citizen who gets coerced into joining a Roman Auxiliary army to defend his homeland against barbarian invaders.  When our hero makes the mistake of upstaging the arrogant General Claudius Glaber, the Romans leave the Thracians high and dry.  Our protagonist is betrayed, captured, and then sold off as human chattel.

He's subsequently purchased by Quintus Batiatus, who's inherited a rundown gladiator training academy. Now re-named after the fierce Thracian King of legend, Spartacus is forced to do battle in the arena. After being separated from his beloved wife Sura, our hero manages to channel all of his rage into one bloody victory after another.  In order to keep his new champion pacified, Quintus pledges to funnel all of the gladiator's winnings into an effort to track down his missing wife.  Naturally, the mind reels when you consider the opportunities for duplicity here.

Like I said, the pilot really failed to impress me.  It's rife with badly-rendered, hyper-stylized violence pilfered from the movie 300, with a bunch of gratuitous nudity thrown in.   But then I watched episode two. And then I watched episode three.  And then I found myself watching two or three episodes per sitting until then I ran out of episodes and then I was sad.

Did the producers just feel as if they had to cram as much sensationalistic nonsense into the pilot just to hook viewers? Well, it almost had the opposite effect on me and it's a minor miracle that I stuck with it.  But, man,  I'm sure glad I did.  

Over the course of the next three or four episodes, the characters slowly begin to reveal themselves in increasingly sophisticated ways.  Naturally we cheer for Spartacus right away because we're sympathetic to his plight, but then the writers take a gamble and show us that he's not perfect.  His mindless quest for revenge causes collateral damage.  He's overconfident and sometimes a bit arrogant.  And he's also a bit of an asshole, especially where it concerns "yesterday's news" rival gladiator Crixus. Bless the writers for treating the audience like mature adults who are capable of making up our own minds about certain characters.

In order to strike the perfect balance between rage, smarm, and cunning, the producers really needed a talented actor for the title role.  They struck pay-dirt when they found Welsh actor Andy Whitfield. It's a friggin' crime that he passed away recently after a lengthy battle with non-Hodgekin lymphoma. Fans can only hope that his replacement (Liam McIntyre) has just a fraction of Whitfield's charisma.  Andy's presence will be sorely missed.
Speaking of Crixus, his character continues to reveal increasingly complex facets.  When we first meet him he comes across as a typical meat-headed, honor-bound, brainwashed oaf who's irrational hatred for Spartacus springs from his own insecurities.  But after we see him get used and discarded by Lucretia, the wife of Batiatus, all the while secretly pining over the stunning slave girl Naevia (Lesley-Ann Brandt), we begin to feel guilt over writing him off as as a mere goon.  That's a major feather in the cap of the writers.

Lucretia, along with her husband Quintus, form the Lady and Lord MacBeth of the piece.  Once again, the writers do a great job generating sympathy for these two.  After all, it's easy for us to get behind two people who are just trying to keep their business afloat, improve their lot in life and make ends meet.  However, as their behavior become increasingly Machiavellian, we eventually get turned off by their inability to be satisfied with merely prospering.  Both Lucy Lawless and John Hannah are sheer genius in their respective roles.  It's a credit to both actors that we silently plead with them to do the right thing, long after their dark paths become apparent.

I also have to give praise to all of the actors for being brave enough to jettison any shred of self-consciousness.  Quite often they're asked to appear completely disrobed on screen or indulge in some pretty risque sequences.  I imagine it would be challenging to be completely buck nekkid with a veritable army of cast and crew standing around eating sammiches.  In additional to being historically honest, the copious nudity certainly offers up some tremendous eye candy for both male and female viewers.  I, for one, would personally like to thank the show's producers for giving us a glimpse of Xena's chakrams.  A-hem.

As if to reward their bravery, the actors are given a ton of "A"-list material to work from. The plot keeps getting better and better and story threads dropped earlier in the season pay off in the end.  The denoument is particularly nasty, like Titus Andronicus meets Apocalypse Now.  Speaking of Shakespeare, this is one of the few examples where the mock-Shakespearean dialogue actually works.

I love that Steven S. DeKnight and his team of scribes actually went through the bother of approximating how ancient Romans used to speak, employing one-word sentiments like "Apologies" versus "I'm sorry" for example.  The dialogue is also generously spiked with double entendres, bawdy humor and alliteration. As salty as things can get, there's also plenty of wit and wisdom, such as when Spartacus declares: "It is a distance to travel from a woman's mouth to a man's ears."          

The digital effects also get better as the season progresses.  One spectacular highlight features a titanic battle with Spartacus and Crixus allied against the monstrous and nigh-invulnerable Theoceles.  Also memorable is a horrible detour into The Pit, a vile and repellent bloodsport den that makes the arena look like a kid's soccer match.  Scenes like this even managed to make this veteran gorehound's stomach churn.

So, if your interested in a television series that actually follows through on what shlock crap like Gladiator promised to do, then look no further.  Spartacus: Blood and Sand takes advantage of it's additional freedoms to deliver a show that's appropriately bloody, sexually mature and positively rich with memorable dialogue, engaging plot twists and top-notch performances.

Here's just a sample of the intensity of the combat scenes:

The Wire (2002-2008)

Y'know, I didn't think that anything could ever come close to supplanting The Shield as my favorite cop show but The Wire comes pretty damned close.  Mercifully, both shows are so apple vs. orange that comparisons ultimately prove fruitless ("Haw!  See what I did there?").  So, what we're left with are two incredible shows which are distinctly awesome in their own inimitable ways.

The primary mastermind behind The Wire is David Simon, a former police reporter in Baltimore.  After he became increasingly disillusioned with the state of investigative journalism, he channeled all of his ample experience into writing crime dramas.  His first novel, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets was quite successful and served as the basis for Homicide: Life on the Streets only two years later.  I'm ashamed to say that I haven't seen this show, but it's certainly on my docket now.  

Allegedly Simon had some conflicts with NBC over Homicide's consistently bleak subject matter.  When it came time to produce a new show, Simon took it directly to HBO, where he knew such content wouldn't be an issue.  It was a wise move, since The Wire dispenses with every mediocre expectation that the big networks often saddle police dramas with.

The show follows the efforts of a rag-tag group of Baltimore cops as they attempt to surveil, gather evidence and then bust a drug trafficking ring run my the notorious Avon Barksdale.  After D'Angelo (Larry Gilliard Jr), Avon's nephew and a lieutenant in the gang, is acquitted for murder after a key witness suddenly refuses to testify, Detective James McNulty (Dominic West) decides that this is the last straw.  After pulling some strings with the Judge, he manages to shame the senior members of the police force into establishing a hastily-assembled, poorly funded and nominally-staffed department dedicated to taking down Barksdale.

Naturally complications arise.  Half of McNulty's officers want nothing to do with the assignment.  Most of them are cast-offs who are alternately lazy, incompetent or prone to "loose cannon" behavior.  Low-level arrests prove useless.  Even more disturbing: it becomes increasingly obvious that the detail is nothing but a half-hearted concession that was never meant to succeed.    

For the longest time, nothing happens until one of McNulty's best acquisitions, Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) manages to photograph Avon Barksdale, crack the elaborate pager system used by the gang to communicate and then lobbies for the implementation of a wiretap.  Soon the fresh evidence starts to implicate high-ranking political figures, which reveals a few conflict of interest. 

The really cool thing about The Wire is how it allocates just as much screen time to the Barksdale gang as it does to the cops.  I read a book a few years ago called Freakonomics which compared the organization of drug dealers to the managerial structure of McDonald's. Whereas lesser cop shows usually depict criminals as inherently evil, randomly violent and chronically stupid, Freakonomics and The Wire treat their audiences with a lot more respect.  

In fact we get plenty of scenes which develop the so-called antagonists as three-dimensional characters.  Characters such as D'Angelo really wrestle with their conscience over the negative effects that dealing drugs has on his friends and the neighborhood.  Their organization is incredibly sophisticated, with the kingpins at the top safely insulated from prosecution by their obedient foot-soldiers.  Their seemingly antiquated method of communication via pagers cleverly avoids traditional surveillance.  

That's not to say that the lifestyle is glamorized in any way, shape or form.  Homeless "customers" like Bubbles (Andre Royo) are abused at every turn.  Young, impressionable Wallace (Michael B. Jordan), an ersatz parental figure to a tribe of prepubescent dealers, eventually becomes hooked on his own product.  When Avon Barksdale's major domo Stringer Bell decides that he's a liability, the kid is stunned by how quickly his "friends" turn against him.    

And then we get refreshingly original characters like Omar (Michael K Williams), who would probably never see the light of day on a prime time cop show.  Chewed up by his own environment, Omar becomes a Robin Hood-like vigilante, knocking over stash houses and giving money back to the poor.  Naturally this makes him Public Enemy #1 in Avon's eyes, so he orders his lieutenants to capture, torture and murder Omar's boyfriend Brandon.  Even as Omar steps up his revenge against Barksdale, he still employs an odd sort of honor-code that seems strangely incongruous.     

For it's fresh writing, intense realism, immaculate performances and consistently gritty direction, The Wire is one of the best (if not the best) cop shows ever produced.  Here's just a sample of the show's brillaince, as the wily D'Angelo teaches his young subordinates how to play chess, inner-city style:


So there you have it, Kind Readers, three compelling pieces of evidence that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that cable television is consistently trumping cinema as the superior and intelligent creative medium. For one, these programs don't have the draconian restraints of the MPAA breathing down their necks.  That alone is enough to ensure that the writers aren't bound to directives antiquated enough to make the Comics Code Authority look contemporary.

I'll be back again with three more pick soon!  Until then, keep your brain fit and have fun on your couches!  



FAIL  Wikipedia is awesome, even if only for this encyclopedic record of televised crap: