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My Morning Quiet Moment

Last fall I decided to spend a minute or so every morning standing on our front porch and just enjoying the view. Since it’s rarely much colder than the low 40s here when I make it downstairs, even in my bathrobe taking a minute is not uncomfortable, and often it’s downright pleasant – especially after one of our (sadly, rare) rain showers.

This time of year is also nice because of the flowering trees in the neighborhood, which I can often smell from our front porch.

I try to use the moment to stop worrying about whatever it is that I need to tackle in the day ahead. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

Here’s what part of my view looked like Friday morning:

Morning Moment

Leonard Nimoy

When I was a kid – this was probably the summer of 1974 – my dad sat me down in front of the television (or so I remember it) and said, “You might like this.” This was Star Trek: The Animated Series. I don’t remember much about watching it back then, except being compelled by the episode “Albatross”.

A few years later, a friend and I would play Star Trek on the jungle-gym in our yard. He was Captain Kirk, and I was Mister Spock.

After seeing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, I eventually realized (although it would take some years) that Star Trek was fundamentally about Captain Kirk. (One reason among many why none of the later Star Trek series worked for me.) But like, I imagine, many engineering types, I still identify more strongly with Spock than with Kirk as a personality.

Yet more years later, in my days of arguing Star Trek: The Next Generation on USENET, my main sparring partner made an observation that Leonard Nimoy was the only actor on the original series with much of an acting range. While I think this sells many of his co-stars short, it’s clear that Nimoy’s acting was a big factor in bringing Spock to life. With any other actor the character would, at least, have been quite different. Heck, even with Zachary Quinto doing his level best to imitate Nimoy’s performance, his version of Spock in the recent films feels considerably different from Nimoy’s.

Today Leonard Nimoy has died at age 83. And, as is usually the case when someone passes – in this case, a man I never met, whom I only really know through a fictional character he played – I don’t know what to say.

How about this: I always thought it was great that back when the original Star Trek was bring produced, Nimoy and William Shatner became good friends, and stayed friends for the rest of their lives. Considering that Shatner was cast to be the series’ star, but that Spock was the breakout character of the show, it’s easy to see that they could have instead been rivals and not gotten along at all. I think each of them came away with a lot of baggage from the show, but in a way I think their lasting friendship is as powerful a lesson as any of the morality plays that Trek threw up on the screen.

A Week Vanishes

It’s been a hectic week-plus around here.

Last weekend we drove up to San Francisco to go to Borderlands Books since they announced they would be closing in a few months due to San Francisco’s new minimum wage ordinance. We wanted to see it once more, buy some books, and also buy some commemorative hoodies they’d had made. Since then, they decided to try instituting a sponsorship program, which brought in the needed amount of money for this year in just two days, so they’re going to be open through at least early next year. Which is great news!

Last Monday I got some nachos at the cafe at work, and they didn’t sit well with me. Tuesday morning I woke up feeling kind of woozy, but I got my act together and went to the gym anyway. But once I was sitting at my desk in the office I just couldn’t move forward, so I went home. And proceeded to spend most of the next nineteen hours dozing or sleeping with some sort of stomach bug. I blamed the nachos at first, but apparently there’s been something going around the office, so it was probably a coincidence. I felt better on Wednesday, but still pretty out of it, so I stayed home again. I basically spent the day quietly reading in the living room, and by about mid-afternoon was feeling much better.

Anyway, losing two days out of my week is a pretty weird experience.

Debbi was very nice and brought me soup and crab-apple juice (which I was in the mood for), and looked after me while I was sick.

And Roulette was delighted that I spent a whole day on her favorite couch, where she loves to snuggle with me every Wednesday evening for comic book night.

Thursday and Friday were back to work. I continue to chip away at making calls on behalf of my mother, about which I will likely write a longer entry at some point.

Saturday a couple of friends of Debbi’s family were in town – a woman who lived near where Debbi grew up, and her daughter. They were having what sounded like a great vacation in San Francisco, and drove down to see our house, and go to lunch. Then we drove out to Livermore wine country for a wine tasting. Our go-to winery these days is Thomas Coyne Winery, although we learned on this trip that the rustic barn where their tasting room used to be has been sold (I guess they were renting it), so now they’re in a less-picturesque light industrial zone. However, their wine and their entertaining tasting staff are still intact, so we’ll be sure to return. Our visitors seemed to have a great time, too.

I’m not quite sure where Sunday went. I did some yard work, we went for a walk, did our grocery shopping – and suddenly it was dark and time for dinner.

And now it’s Monday again somehow!

Summer at Disneyland in February

We’re back from a long weekend at Disneyland! This was a slightly different trip for us, as we’ve never gone in February before, and we also flew down rather than drove. When you factor in getting to the airport early, flying is not a huge amount faster than driving (though if they close the Grapevine into L.A. as they did last time we went then it is quite a bit faster to fly), but it is nice to not have to do the driving ourselves, and it really does shave at least an hour or two off of the travel time. We also had a hilarious driver of our SuperShuttle from the Orange County airport.

We stayed at the Carousel Inn, which we were less impressed with. Aside from the extremely small bathroom and the tub drain getting clogged, it has a weird mix of old/new technology: Ancient lights with push buttons which are nonetheless wired to modern wall switches, and an old air conditioner with a modern thermostat control. It was like the ultimate half-assed remodel. At least the beds were comfortable and things basically worked, but it’s not a place we’ll be in a hurry to return to. Of course it’s also very close to the main entrance to the park, which is why we chose it (well, that and several other hotels were full by the time we booked).

Anyway, we bought 3-day passes for the parks since we got there early enough on Saturday to enjoy a half-day. Quite a few attractions were closed as they’re refurbishing many of them in preparation for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary which starts later this year. The two I missed the most were Soarin’ Over California and the Disneyland Railroad. Well okay, I also missed Muppet*Vision 3D, which is temporarily displaced by a Frozen musical theater.

Disneyland Main Entrance

Since we usually go to Disneyland during the holidays, this was a – for us – rare opportunity to see the Haunted Mansion in its standard, non-holiday configuration, which I appreciate more than the holiday version. I’m not a big fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas (I prefer The Corpse Bride), and the bright colors and less-detailed figures of the holiday set-up I find less appealing overall. I particularly enjoyed seeing the “bride’s attic”, which lead me to learn that Wikipedia has an enormous entry on characters in the Haunted Mansion. You’re welcome.

Though we were getting a series of rain storms at home when we left, it was bright, sunny and warm in Anaheim while we were there, and I wore shorts on Sunday and Monday, and was glad I’d brought them. Honestly I almost wish it had been a bit overcast like it was on Saturday, since it was maybe too warm for a few hours at midday otherwise. (I’m sure all our friends who are snowed in in the northeast are really sad to hear that.)

We spent a chunk of time in Downtown Disney, which now features what may be the largest Starbucks I’ve ever seen:

Ginormous Starbucks in Downtown Disney

(click for larger image)

And we spent chunks of two evenings in the Hearthstone Lounge for cocktails, and one night for dinner since we were not very hungry (having chowed down on fried chicken for lunch) and just had some of their bar snacks for dinner. This lounge is becoming my favorite place to end a day once the parks are winding down.

We rode a bunch of rides multiple times, including the recently-refurbished Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. And while the Radiator Springs Racers is a fun ride, we only rode it once because of its long lines. And honestly, as I remarked at one point, the best thing about the Racers is that it sucks crowds away from California Screamin’, which to my mind is the superior ride.

Debbi also bought some Disney pins. I don’t think she’s going to go full-on into pin trading, but she did have this experience: We were in a store on Main Street and she saw a Tigger pin (Tigger is her favorite character) available for trade. The cast member (employee) working the counter said she could buy a pin off the wall to trade for it, so she told me to pick a pin for her. I picked a Stitch pin, and she made some comment about not liking that pin. (I thought it was fine, actually, but not one I wanted to own myself.) The cast member said, “You know whatever pin you picked would have been the wrong one.” Yeah, I did. So, Debbi traded for the Tigger pin, and the cast member took the Stitch pin to put on the board to trade. And just after he did, a maybe eight-year-old girl came up and said that she’d been looking to trade for that Stitch pin all day! So I guess I did choose the right pin!

Oh, and along the way I also took this picture of Debbi:

Debbificent

Hee-hee!

We and our tired feet flew back on Tuesday, and got home early enough to run some errands and settle in.

Debbi was intent on not running us ragged on this trip, and I think we had a good mix of doing stuff, standing in lines, and just hanging around. I think the only things we really missed were seeing fireworks, and riding Star Tours (we opted to ride Space Mountain a second time instead).

And I’m sure well go back sometime during the upcoming 60th anniversary, too.

Quiet Birthday Weekend

I took last Friday off for my birthday, and decided to do… nothing. The last few months have been stressful, so I really wanted to spend a day just hanging around at home not worrying about things I needed to do.

So I got up, got sausage biscuits from McDonald’s for breakfast, then did my one chore for the day, which was getting my hair cut. I went downtown to get a falafel sandwich for lunch, and otherwise I spent the day sitting in our library reading graphic novels. Other than a blip in some e-mails that I had to handle, it went pretty much as I hoped. In the evening Debbi took me out for dinner to Sundance the Steakhouse, as I was craving their prime rib and of course their mixed drinks.

Saturday was busier, as we ran errands all over town, from Costco to OSH to Bed Bath and Beyond. And then at PetSmart we found a new cat tree to replace our ten-year-old one which has been just about shredded on top. Amazingly we were able to get it into my car and get it home, too! The cats seem to have all accepted it, even Roulette, who has been snoozing at the top of it on a regular basis, after having mostly avoided the old tree since we got the kittens.

Sunday went back to being a lazy day, as we watched the two football conference championship games. It was pretty sad to see the Seahawks win, meaning we’ll have one more week of The Worst Fans in Football, but watching the Patriots stomp the Colts was fun. (I actually like the Colts, but they’re not there yet.) Since then we’ve had “deflate-gate” over allegations of the Patriots deflating the ball when they were on offense. This left me agog that teams apparently provide their own balls when they’re on offense in an NFL game. Haven’t all sports leagues learned from baseball’s steroid controversy that any aspect of the game which isn’t closely overseen by the league will be exploited? How in the world could the league have not realized sometime in the last ten years that this was a bad idea?

Well, regardless of whether or not the Patriots cheated, hopefully the NFL will learn from this. The last couple of years have shown that they have a lot of learning to do.

Anyway.

Sunday evening we went to meet our friend Paul for drinks. After a brief bit of confusion over where we were meeting, we had a nice couple of hours with him and a friend of his at Shiva’s. A pleasant wrap-up to the weekend.

Once again, it’s hard to believe another year has passed. It feels like I’m in that stage of my life where the days, the weeks, the years are starting to fly by. That’s a little scary, if I think too much about it. On the other hand, I think back to where I was 20 years ago, how much has happened since then, and think that 20 years from now I might be nearing retirement, but by today’s standards I won’t really be old.

So, it’s not time to worry about the passage of time yet.

Back to the Gym

I went back to the gym this morning for the first time since… well, since last March. That’s misleading, though, since I switch to biking to work in April once Daylight Savings Time starts (so I’m not biking home in the evening in the dark). But other than walking and doing some push-ups in the morning, I haven’t gotten a lot of exercise since the end of October.

I’ve been spending a lot of my mornings before work making phone calls for my mom’s affairs, being stressed out about making those phone calls, or taking care of stuff around the house. (Home ownership! Never lack for things to do again!)

Anyway, the gym went fine. On the elliptical machine I started reading Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible, whose upside I figure is entertaining-but-lightweight. The place was pretty busy but not too bad.

Maybe I’ll go again next week.

End of the Holidays

The end of the holiday season for us comes when we take our Christmas lights down, which we did this weekend. We put them up the weekend after Thanksgiving, so they’ve been up for six weeks, which has to be a record for us.

We have two artificial trees, a big one which goes in the living room so it can be seen from the street, and a smaller one in our family room so we can enjoy the lights while watching television. (It is still a little weird to me that our TV is not in fact in our living room. Almost as weird as the fact that we own three couches, even if one of them is in bad need of replacement.) Then we put up lights around the first floor of the house outside. I added a few more this year, and by my count we had 23 strands of lights up. I think almost all of them are low-power LED lights now, except for maybe a yellow strand and a white one which contains some blinking lights. I actually prefer the rich color of LED lights to incandescent ones, so it’s a win all around as far as I’m concerned.

The holidays were somewhat bittersweet this year: My mom is having some issues, which both my sister and I have been dealing with (her more than me, as she made two trips up on the last two weeks to see her; my role has been in making a lot of phone calls). And Debbi got sick the week of Christmas and has continued to be sick through this weekend. She went to the doctor on Friday and got some antibiotics, which seem to be working already. I thought she’d just had the nasty cold that’s been going around (which I had over Thanksgiving), but apparently hers was worse than that. Hopefully she’ll be better soon.

We still got out to see Christmas lights the week leading up to Christmas, though. We have a lot of nice ones in our area to go view.

We also had a good holiday break, as much as possible with Debbi not feeling great. We got out to the coast and walked the new Devil’s Slide coastal trail, which is about as much fun to walk as the old highway along the cliffs was to drive. We also got together with some neighbors for drinks, and got up to Cal Academy for a day with our friends Chad & Camille and their kids. (Doing the museum with kids is quite different from doing it without kids!)

But this weekend we took down the lights and put everything back in the shed for another year. It’s a bit sad each year when we do it, but it’s nice to reclaim the space from the trees and have the house get back to normal. And, as they say, it’s the fact that it only comes around once a year that makes it special.

Christmas lights

Doctor Who, Season Eight

Welcome to my review of the worst season of Doctor Who since the Colin Baker era. Yes, even worse than last season, which did not have a lot to recommend it.

As usual, I’ll start with my ranking of episodes, from best to worst:

  1. Deep Breath (written by Steven Moffat)
  2. Mummy on the Orient Express (Jamie Mathieson)
  3. Robots of Sherwood (Mark Gatiss)
  4. Last Christmas (Steven Moffat)
  5. Dark Water/Death in Heaven (Steven Moffat)
  6. Time Heist (Stephen Thompson & Steven Moffat)
  7. Listen (Steven Moffat)
  8. Flatline (Jamie Mathieson)
  9. The Caretaker (Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat)
  10. Into the Dalek (Phil Ford & Steven Moffat)
  11. In the Forest of the Night (Frank Cottrell Boyce)
  12. Kill the Moon (Peter Harness)

Let’s sum it up this way: I own every season of the new series on DVD – but I don’t plan to buy this one. Frankly there is not a single episode I particularly want to see a second time. The best of the season, “Deep Breath”, is barely more than a run-of-the-mill suspense yarn. And it gets worse from there.

Also as usual, my reviews contain plenty of spoilers, and so I’ll continue after the jump…

Read on, Macduff! »

Webcomics I Read (2014 Edition)

Every year I think, “I didn’t really start reading a lot of webcomics this year”, and every year I’m surprised by how many I did start reading. This year is no exception, and includes one of the comics I’ve had the most fun catching up on from the beginning (The Bright Side), and one which I most look forward to reading new installments every day (Demon), and a whole bunch of others besides. I also recommend Alice Grove, The Specialists, and Sufficiently Remarkable.

As usual I’m just going to write a short piece for each one, and encourage you to check out the strips themselves if they sound interesting.

Entries for past years can be found here: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.

  • Alice and the Nightmare, by Michelle Krivanek: Alice in Wonderland-inspired fantasy about a woman named Alice living in a stratified society and not being comfortable with the callous attitude her peers display towards lower class citizens. Only one or two chapters have been published before it went on hiatus in August, and it’s not yet clear to me what the “nightmare” is. Might appeal to fans of Ava’s Demon or Blindsprings.
  • Alice Grove, by Jeph Jacques: Known for Questionable Content, one of the most popular webcomics around, Jeph Jacques launched Alice Grove this fall. It’s a long-form science fiction piece in which an alien falls to Earth in, well, a grove tended by a woman named Alice. Alice seems to be the protector of a local town, and recently took down a visitor sporting some serious nanotech. That’s all the know so far. The strip pushes Jacques’ art skills farther than QC generally does (which I bet is part of the reason he started it) and they’re taking a little while to catch up. On the bright side it features some of his whimsical humor. Overall I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes next year.
  • Bird Boy, by Annie Szabla: Fantasy story about a 10-year-old boy who strays from his tribe and gets caught up in the goings-on of powerful beings who do not have the best interest of humans at heart. The story follows our hero on his mostly-solitary adventures which sometimes threaten to overwhelm him not just physically but emotionally. Szabla knocks the art out of the park, though the story is not bowling me over so far. I’m still in wait-and-see mode with this one.
  • Boulet: Boulet is a french cartoonist, and he publishes here strips of greatly varying length. I discovered him because his strip “Kingdoms Lost” got spotlighted, and it’s a terrific story of a warrior and princess who get ousted from their universe and have different outlooks on going back. More cynically there’s “Jurassic Park: Realistic Version”. A new Boulet page usually requires a little time commitment to read, and not every strip grabs me, but it’s good stuff overall.
  • The Bright Side, by Amber Francis: I devoured the extensive archives of this strip in less than a week – it’s really, really good. Emily is a girl who saw the personification of Death when her mother died when she was young. She met him again as a high schooler, and they became friends. He’s immortal and can travel through time (he kinda has to in order to do his job of reaping everyone who dies), but he’s a nice guy despite his unique vantage point, even a bit naive since he hasn’t had the human life experience himself. The strip is mostly about them discussing the nature of life and existence, which might sound tedious but once the strip found its legs it actually stays quite interesting. Also thoughtful, touching, and funny.

    Time is slowly passing in the strip (maybe a year or two since it started?), so there is gradual progress. For example, Em recently learned the truth about her father, and has gone to visit him and his family. I don’t know whether Francis has an ultimate direction or goal for the strip (there have been a few hints that she does, but they’re ambiguous enough that it needn’t play out that way). I kind of hope she does, but it doesn’t need to come any time soon.

    The art starts out rough and gradually tightens up, though the style stays sketchy. It’s very expressive, though, which is necessary since there are a lot of subtle things that happen along the way, so the range of facial expressions is invaluable.

    Highly recommended. Honestly given its extensive archive I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before this year.

  • Cardboard Crack, by Magic Addict: Gag-a-day strips for people who play Magic: The Gathering, and probably of limited interest to anyone else. The art is very simplistic, somewhere south of xkcd quality, but the artist clearly understands Magic gamers and their foibles.
  • Demon, by Jason Shiga: Shiga is an independent comics artist who’s been around a while, but I discovered him through this strip (and then promptly bought most of his catalog at APE this fall). The protagonist, Jimmy, attempts suicide in a strip motel in the first chapter – and wakes up back in the same room. He repeats this several times before he learns what’s going on – and then things get really weird. The reveal at the end of the first chapter is awesome, and the story has had several twists and turns since then, and continues to get more involved and tense. Shiga also brings his trademark cool, analytical approach to explaining how things work in the story. Shiga’s art has a distinct, recognizable style, although his geometric-shape figures sometimes feel a little stiff, but they never really get in the way of telling the story. Demon pages go up 5 days a week and they’re usually one of my first reads each day.
  • Dicebox, by Jenn Manley Lee: A high-profile science fiction webcomic following the exploits of Molly and Griffen, friends and lovers travelling around known space and working various odd jobs. It’s strongly character-driven, mainly around Griffen’s idiosyncrasies and complicated back story. The art is complex and gorgeous, but I often feel like the story is not really for me: It feels like it’s a lot of running around and talking, but that the story is largely in the background and is progressing very slowly. I also feel that, despite all the talking, the characters are not very strong – Griffen is really the only one who seems distinct. There are some dryly entertaining moments, but it’s not one of my favorites.
  • Dorkly, by Andrew Bridgman and others: Geek humor, broadly told and hilariously illustrated. Dorkly is a geek clickbait site, but the comics are amusing.
  • Fowl Language Comics, by Brian Gordon: One- and two-panel observations of the world, full of sarcasm and smartassery. Be sure to read the bonus panel for each strip.
  • The Fox Sister, by Christina & Jayd Aït-Kaci: A modern urban fantasy story taking place in South Korea (well, actually it takes place in the 1960s, but that’s “modern” by fantasy standards). Yun Hee is a young woman whose older sister died years earlier. Alex, a visiting American, gets interested in her, and gets caught in a struggle involving an evil spirit and possession. Things moved right along for a while, but updates have been infrequent lately, making it harder to follow. It’s worth reading through the archives, though.
  • Happle Tea, by Scott Maynard: Gag-a-day strip focusing on making fun of (mainly) religion, though also pop culture and the supernatural. Oddly most of the jokes involve defunct religions (e.g., Greek or Norse mythology), which I think is less satisfying than skewering contemporary religion. It doesn’t really have an ongoing narrative so you can jump in anywhere. Good art, though the jokes are usually verbal rather than visual.
  • LeveL, by Nate Swinehart: This one baffles me a bit. Science fiction in a multi-sectored metropolis, in which a young man named Cael was involved in some sort of disaster, and lives under house arrest for three years thereafter. We also see what happens when a sector gets closed down. But it feels like this is all the very early stages of a much longer story, and it’s not at all clear where it’s going.
  • Lovecraft is Missing, by Larry Latham: A long-form horror strip which has been running for several years: In the 1920s, the writer H.P. Lovecraft disappears, and some friends and acquaintances investigate what happened, naturally finding that many things he wrote about are real. The story plods at times (much like Lovecraft’s own work), but it’s pretty good. The real downside is that writer/artist Latham was diagnosed with cancer, had to stop drawing, hired a new artist – and then passed away this fall. So it’s not clear whether the strip will get finished.
  • M.F.K., by Nilah: Abbie, a teen girl carrying her mother’s ashes, ends up in a desert village. She also reveals herself to be a telekinetic – unregistered – when a band other other such folks wanders in to terrorize the town. There’s some good stuff here – the art, for instance, and the showdown between Abbie and the others – though the story is on the slow side. No, I haven’t yet figured out what “M.F.K.” stands for.
  • Monster Soup, by Julie Devin: I can’t really summarize it better than the artist does on the site: “A zombie, witch, ghost, werewolf, and a vampire are sentenced to live in a castle. Unbeknownst to them, they all share the same incompetent lawyer and judge who seemed intent on sending them to the same castle.” The five convicts don’t always get along very well, and the castle has secrets which are dangerous even to them. Art is decent, seems influenced by a mix of manga and video games, neither of which has any special appeal to me. It’s been on hiatus since September.
  • Next Town Over, by Erin Mehlos: A fantasy western in which shadowy bounty hunter, Vane Black, chases an unscrupulous rogue, John Henry Hunter, through a variety of small towns, the pair wreaking havoc along the way. Neither of the characters is particularly admirable or relatable, and the stories are little more than a series of set-pieces or mayhem and escapades. The art is very good, but after 7 chapters it feels like there’s not really a lot to bite into here.
  • Opportunities, by ML Snook & Katie DeGelder: This is a comic I feel I should like a lot more than I do, inasmuch as it’s pretty serious SF stuff involving aliens and humans interacting in the present day in a single spaceport, where a murder occurs. The art is not very sophisticated, but it’s good enough, especially in rendering the backdrop of the grand hotel where events take place. But the cast is sizable, not especially developed, and the story seems to mainly just be characters running around with few notable developments. So I’ve found it hard to get invested in what’s going on, though of course it’s always possible that I haven’t paid close enough attention.
  • Scandinavia and the World, by Humon: Humorous strip featuring personifications of various nations (the Scandinavian ones, of course, and some others) and the way they view each others’ peculiarities. The art is on the adorable side, which is a funny contrast to some of the subject matter.
  • Sfeer Theory, by Alex Singer & Jayd Aït-Kaci: Fantasy-adventure in a world resembling, perhaps, 18th or early 19th century Europe in which those who master Sfeer Theory can control physical objects. Valentino is a young man with an unusual mastery of these skills, but who has low social status. Also, his kingdom of Warassa is wrapping up a war with a neighbor. Lots of interesting stuff here, but seems to update irregularly. Also, it doesn’t have an RSS feed, which makes it very difficult to keep up with.
  • The Specialists, by Al Fukalek & Shawn Gustafson: It’s World War II and the Nazis have developed superhumans. The Americans are trying to do the same, but it’s not going very well. The Specialists are the team of superhumans they have so far, and most of the government regards them as something of a joke. The premise is similar to Kieron Gillen’s comic book Über, but it’s less grim and desperate, with a little more humor. Fukalek’s art is a bit on the rough side, but it gets stronger as the story goes along. The story took a while to get going, but it’s paying off: The team is currently in the midst of their first battlefield test, which has brought several things to a head. Overall a strong strip.
  • Spindrift, by Elsa Kroese & Charlotte E. English: High fantasy with different species (some with wings, some with horns), class warfare, cross-species children, family responsibilities, and cultural burdens. Not exactly my sort of thing, and my interest has flagged since updates fell to once every three weeks. The art is attractive, though.
  • Stonebreaker, by Peter Wartman: I bought Wartman’s graphic novel Over the Wall some months ago (it’s also available online here), and Stonebreaker is billed as a sequel to it. A girl enters an ancient abandoned city searching for her brother and encounters the demons that live there. It’s still spinning up, it feels like. Nice black-and-white art, especially the details in the background.
  • Sufficiently Remarkable, by Maki Naro: Here’s a comic I enjoy more than I expected to: A couple of roommates, Riti and Meg, working through life in New York. Riti is a dreamer who’s constantly bogged down in the mundanity of every-day life, while Meg is a free spirit with little sense of responsibility. The writing could be tightened up a bit as sometimes the story feels a bit aimless, but some of the escapades are funny. The art reminds me a bit of that from Lilo and Stitch.
  • Supercakes, by Kat Layh: A series of vignettes about a pair of superhero girlfriends. Updates irregularly (last update was in August), but some fun character bits: A quiet morning, meeting family at the holidays, and a winter adventure against ice giants. Really strong artwork. Looking forward to more, when it arrives.
  • Trekker, by Ron Randall: Trekker was published as a series of comics back in the 80s, and a new chapter was printed recently in Dark Horse Presents. Ron Randall has all of that material available to read here, along with new chapters. Mercy St. Clair is a “Trekker”, essentially a bounty hunter working on future Earth to capture criminals the law can’t keep up with. Though she looks younger, there’s a developing thread of her being older and her body starting to break down on her, though she’s still one of the best in the business. More adventure than hard science fiction or noir, it’s a fun read for fans of that genre. Randall is also a terrific artist so the pages look great, and while Mercy is an attractive woman, there’s not a lot of cheesecake in the strip.
  • Unearth, by Mathew Van Dinter: Boy, I am not sure what to make of this strip. Steampunk fantasy in which – eventually – the characters will be burrowing into the Earth, I think, but so far it’s been an extensive set-up largely involving comedies of manners (especially poor manners). The artwork is very quirky, the poses having a weird mix of stiff and expressive. It seems like it has a lot of promise, but it’s taking a long time to get to it.
  • Utopia City, by Ron Gravelle: Aeons ago, space gods fought among themselves and eventually called a truce. Today, they empower proxies to fight their battles for them, but in Utopia City one man is working to defeat their minions and ultimately stop the gods themselves. A Kirby-esque pulp superhero yarn told in realistic black-and-white illustrations, it’s loud, hard-hitting, and not at all subtle, it frankly feels decidedly retro in the modern day. The art is good, if somewhat lacking in dynamism. The story hasn’t really grabbed me yet, as it’s light on characterization.
  • Witchy, by Ariel Ries: A fantasy ina kingdom of witches where the strength of your magic is determined by the length of your hair – but if it’s too long, you’re judged an enemy of the state are executed. Our heroine Nyneve had her father killed in that way when she was small, and now a teenager she hides the length of her hair to save herself from the same fate. But the day of being tested for entry into the Witch Guard is coming. The story is still in its prologue, building to its first major dramatic turning point, but it’s pretty good so far. The art is on the simple side – not many backgrounds, for instance – but it has some interesting character designs.

If there’s a common thread I notice when putting together these entries, it’s that long-form dramatic webcomics which don’t update regularly are hard to follow and hard to remember. This is compounded if the story doesn’t have memorable characters (either visually or in personality). Hell, it’s sometimes hard to remember what’s going on in Girl Genius, and it updates three times a week like clockwork. There are a lot of strips like that fighting to distinguish themselves from others, and it’s gotta be hard on the artist if they’ve been toiling away for a year or two and haven’t broken out.

Sometimes I wonder if some strips are too ambitious, so that a year or more of strips still feels like the story is in the prologue. Contrast with ongoing humor strips which often start with a small cast and build them out over time. I wonder whether dramatic strips might do better to take the same approach, especially if they update infrequently.

Still, it’s easy to say all that when you’re not doing your own strip, eh?

Ascension

I was kind of aware of the SyFy mini-series Ascension (no relation to the deck building card game of the same name) because they’d been running ads for it for a few weeks now (mainly promoting it as Tricia Helfer’s return to SF TV). Somehow I stumbled upon the timeline for the story and it got me much more interested.

The premise is that in 1963 the United States launched a generation starship to Proxima Centauri, with a planned mission length of 100 years, and that this was kept from the public. So the ship, the USS Ascension, developed its own society (with only 600 people), cut off from communication with Earth. The series starts in the present day, 51 years after launch, and begins with the first murder on the ship since it took off. The first episode (of three), in particular, focuses on the investigation of the murder, and various red herrings along the way.

The first episode also ends with a big plot twist, and it’s impossible to talk about the story in depth without spoiling it, so I’m going to continue this entry after the jump.

But if this sounds interesting, I suggest watching the first episode, which features some stellar set design and costuming, maybe the best I’ve ever seen in an SF television show. When you hit the twist, you’ll either be intrigued to watch more, or you’ll decide to stop there.

But now, on to the spoilers:

Read on, Macduff! »