Still Quite Busy

April has been a little less busy then March, but the difference is that it hasn’t been due to a bunch of things all scheduled well ahead of time; instead I’ve been keeping busy with more spur-of-the-moment (or at least spur-of-the-week) activities.

Last weekend Debbi invited some people over to dye eggs for Easter. She likes to do this every year. Josh and his girlfriend Lisa came by first, and then Susan and Subrata came by around the time they were leaving. I’d already dyed all the eggs I’d wanted to, so Subrata and I ended up playing some Magic instead.

Before dying eggs, I went out to the nursery and picked up some plants and flowers. (While I was out I got a snootfull of the fire at the scrap yard in Redwood City which stunk up peninsula and valley air for part of the day. Eew.) Then on Sunday I turned over the dirt in my planter and put them all in. This year we have three tomato plants, a cucumber plant, marigolds and snapdragons. I was happy to get the snapdragons; it seems like I can rarely find them this early in the year, I don’t know why. I love snapdragons. We also have space for one more vegetable plant, but we’re not sure what to plant yet, if anything.

We’ve gotten some rain this week (it’s raining right now, actually) which is helping kick-start the plants. The tomatoes are taking off right away, which they always do, and the snapdragons are starting to bloom. Hopefully the looming drought won’t deep-six my growing plans this year.

Wednesday evening we had our annual homeowners association meeting, which was quite routine this year. We’ve got a few projects in the planning stages, so we were basically just talking about how they’re going, and that was it.

Debbi came home early Thursday afternoon since we had cleaners coming in. Neither Debbi nor I are very diligent about cleaning the house, especially deep-cleaning it: We keep things reasonably neat and it’s not like the place is a sty, but we do accumulate more dust and cat hair then we’d wish, and we do hate cleaning (say) around the stove. So Debbi finally convinced me to get some cleaners in, and they really did a great job! The kitchen is cleaner than it’s been in years, the bathrooms look great, and all the bookshelves are dusted. So the place is virtually gleaming for my Mom when she arrives next week. And we’re considering having them come in monthly to keep the place clean.

Thursday night we played Magic. There were six of us who gathered at Lee’s for another Time Spiral/Planar Chaos draft. At the end of the draft portion of the evening, I felt like I had a very strong green base, but mostly a big pile of cow flop as far as an actual deck was concerned. After starng at my cards for a while I realized I needed to give up on my first overall pick, The Rack and any hope of building a discard deck, and instead create a green/white/blue deck with my three Search for Tomorrows to make the extra colors work.

And boy, did it ever work.

The backbone of my deck was Verdant Embrace combined with Gaia’s Anthem, which resulted in an incredibly fast 2/2 creature generator (these are, in my opinion, two of the very best cards in the Time Spiral block so far). I had another creature generator in the Benalish Commander (the creature generators combine well with Essence Warden, too), a card drawer in Aeon Chronicler, a wacky all-purpose creature in Stuffy Doll (combining it with Ophidian Eye is just ridiculous), and a variety of good supporting creatures. I ended up winning all three matches I played, despite not drafting a single flying creature, or any creature removal. I basically just beat my opponents to death.

I got incredibly lucky to assemble this combo, really, although I do take credit for figuring out how to assemble them into a decent deck. But whether it ws luck or skill, it did result in a very fun evening of gaming for me.

That catches us up to today, where Debbi is busy at a scrapbooking event with her friends, and Subrata is hosting another Magic day. Which is not a bad thing to spend a rainy Saturday doing.

Larry Niven: Ringworld

Review of the novel Ringworld by Larry Niven.

  • Ringworld

    • by Larry Niven
    • PB, © 1970, 342 pp, Del Rey, ISBN 0-345-33392-6

When I started reading science fiction “seriously” in the mid-1980s, Ringworld had the reputation as being the most important hard SF novel before William Gibson’s Neuromancer. But as with most of Niven’s oeuvre, I’ve never read it. I tried a couple of times, back in the day, but was never able to get through it – was never able to even get as far as the characters getting to the Ringworld. But now, I have.

Given what I know about science fiction now, I think Ringworld can make a case for being the most significant SF novel between Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) and Neuromancer (1986). The reason for this is that I think Niven’s classic work fits perfectly between two generations of hard SF: He has a no-nonsense writing style and a logical approach to working through the implications of his ideas as part of the plot (which is very Asimovian, and to a lesser degree very Heinleinian), but he also anticipates the high-tech cutting-edge social implications of technology a la John Varley and Vernor Vinge and, well, William Gibson. And Ringworld shows this latter characteristic – and Niven’s high concept ideas content – quite strongly.

The whole premise of the novel is the Ringworld itself, a strip of habitable land which entirely rings its primary star. I’ve read a lot of “big dumb object” stories, and they all suffer to a large extent from having an ending which is a letdown: Trying to understand why an alien species would build such a large thing, and crafting a whole novel around it, it’s extremely difficult to have an explanation which is rewarding. Ringworld sidesteps this issue by presenting the Ringworld’s existence and reason for being from the outset: Why would someone build such a thing? For the living space, obviously!

The plot features four extraordinary individuals: Louis Wu, a 200-year-old man who is a little bored with life; Nessus, a Pierson’s Puppeteer, a highly advanced alien species whose culture is based on cowardice; Speaker-to-Animals, a Kzinti warrior; and Teela Brown, whom Nessus thinks might have been bred to be lucky. The Puppeteers discovered the Ringworld and want to know who built it, and whether they might be a threat, so Nessus – considered mad by his people – rounds up his team and they head to the Ringworld to explore it. Landing there, they are awed by the sheer scope of the project, and encounter many wondrous and dangerous things and creatures in their adventures.

What I like about this novel which I don’t like in, say, Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, is that Niven doesn’t go for the cheap thrill of Things We Don’t Understand: Everything on the Ringworld makes sense, even if it takes a little while to figure out, and it never feels forced or contrived: It all follows from the basic sense of wonder of a giant engineering feat which has somehow been left alone for millennia, and whose builders are absent.

The really unusual thing about the book is that the outcome of the story ultimately isn’t about the Ringworld: It’s about the evolution of humanity and the role these individuals and their species have played in it. The Ringworld is just a backdrop against which this drama plays out. It’s all a little improbable (which is sort of the point), and I don’t entirely buy the “perpetual deus ex machina” approach that underlies the direction Niven sends his universe, but it does make for a thought-provoking read.

Ringworld does fall prey to the “lots of walking around” pitfall of such stories: The characters spend a lot of time just flying about and seeing things and having brief, fairly disconnected encounters with people and things on the world. Consequently, the story bogs down from time to time. On the bright side, it’s not one of the extra-long novels which pepper bookshelves today, so it’s not hard to power through the tedious stuff and get back to the good stuff.

Although in some ways the book feels a little musty today – in that it doesn’t anticipate modern hard SF staples such as cyberspace or nanotechnology – so much of what it popularized is still with us and still influencing SF: Ramjets and slower-than-light travel, the varied races of Known Space, the evolution of humanity and the consequent singularity (even if Niven’s singularity is very different from Vinge’s). Niven’s narrative strength in delivering a sense of wonder still holds up more often than not, and really, in a world where Star Trek is among the best-known forms of science fiction, Known Space still feels cutting-edge.

For those reasons, it’s still a little amazing to me that I never read the book cover-to-cover until today. It’s must reading for any fan or student of science fiction.


Lineup Protection

Interesting article arguing that lineup protection in baseball exists. This runs counter to the sabermetric wisdom that lineup protection is a myth: Past research (if I recall correctly) has determined that having a better hitter on deck does not, over a significant number of plate appearances, result in a better hitting experience (more hits, walks and bases per plate appearance) than having a worse hitter on deck.

The author sums up this theory and suggests his criticism of it:

[J.C.] Bradbury’s regression analysis [in his book The Baseball Economist] attempts to measure the effect of the on-deck hitter’s quality on the current batter’s outcome (his regression model has the on-deck hitter’s OPS on the right-hand side and the current batter’s outcome on the left-hand side). This approach is intuitive; in fact, my initial instinct might be to perform similar research. However, at bat outcomes involve many moving parts (where the ball lands, reaction of the defense, and luck, to name a few), and Bradbury is trying to measure the effect of an outcome-based rate (OPS) on another outcome. Thus, if there is some noise or randomness within the data, the problem would be compounded in the findings.

Certainly this is true. But this is why a sufficiently large sample size is needed for the study. The question is: Is the set of data used to analyze lineup protection inadequate? The author seems to assume that it is, although that’s never been my impression.

He suggests examining pitch-by-pitch data to see whether batters see more “good” pitches (pitches in the strike zone, and fastballs rather than breaking pitches) with a better hitter on deck rather than a worse hitter. His analysis says yes:

The protection production function seems to tell us conflicting stories. The “input” findings show that protection exists, but the “output” evidence suggests that protection does not exist. So, which answer is correct? In addition to the potential randomness issue discussed earlier, outputs suffer from one other relative disadvantage – the mere volume of data being studied is different. Analysis at the per-pitch level (inputs) employs about four times the number of instances as per-at bat level analysis (outputs). Thus, while prior research may (or may not) point us in the right direction, I would argue that the production function’s inputs push us much closer to the truth.

I don’t buy this argument. The question at hand, as I see it, is not “Does having a better hitter on deck cause the pitcher to throw pitches to the batter that are easier to hit (i.e., more advantageous to the batter)?”, but rather, “Does having a better hitter on deck cause the batter to produce more runs?”

If we grant the result of his analysis (if not the conclusion he draws from it), though, then it does raise an interesting question: If a better hitter on deck causes the pitcher to change his approach, then why don’t batters in such situations experience better outcomes than in other situations? Are pitchers changing their approaches in a manner which is not actually useful? Is there something here that players and teams don’t yet understand and which might be exploitable?

He wraps up with a broader point:

I want to be clear about my broader argument. The sabermetric community will benefit as it moves away from its relatively strict reliance on outcomes and outputs. Events on the field of any sport involve a great deal of processes. While outcome data (e.g., much of what you find online at great sites such as retrosheet and baseball-reference) have generally been more widely available, a full picture of economic analysis in the future will rely much more heavily on whole processes and their inputs.

While both inputs and outputs can be interesting, neither is inherently more or less interesting than the other. It depends on what you’re trying to study. This fellow has failed to persuade me that the input side is as important as the output side in the case of lineup protection.

(I learned about this post through the Red Sox Mailing List. And boy does the list’s page need updating!)

One Week of Baseball

One should always be wary of drawing any conclusions based on a single week of the baseball season. However, I do often find it instructive to see which teams are struggling mightily in the first week, only because it’s a lot easier to squander a 4-game lead than it is to overcome a 4-game deficit.

Three teams are currently occupying the cellar in Major League Baseball:

  • The Washington Nationals are 1-6, 4.5 games behind the lead. The Nationals are widely expected to be the worst team in baseball in 2007, so this isn’t a surprise: There just isn’t much talent there.
  • The Philadelphia Phillies are 1-5, in the same division. The Phillies were expected to contend in their division, but instead they’ve lost 4 close games (3 runs or less), 2 blowouts, and won one blowout. They’re 4th in runs scored, but next-to-last in runs allowed, with plenty of blame to go around on the latter score. Their pitching’s going to have to be more consistent if they’re really going to contend.
  • The San Francisco Giants are 1-5, 3.5 games back. They’re last in runs scored and third-from-last in runs allowed, which is just all-around awful. They’re also the oldest team in baseball. While there’s some reason to hope their pitching will come around (Barry Zito always seems to be awful in April), their hitting is just not that good: Beyond Barry Bonds and Ray Durham, there isn’t a real good reason to think they’ll be above average at any other position. I picked them to finish behind even the Rockies this year, and they’re off to a correspondingly poor start.

The Phillies might just be having a run of bad luck to start the year, but being 4.5 games out with 25 weeks to play isn’t exactly a way to put yourself into contention. Meanwhile, the Nats and Giants have put themselves in position to be the worst teams in baseball.

Over in the American League, the Indians and Mariners have each only played 3 games, thanks to a goodly dose of snow in Cleveland over the weekend.

No one in the AL is looking really awful so far: Even the teams with the worst offenses have shown good pitching so far, and vice-versa. But that just means that no one’s separated themselves from the pack. I figure Baltimore, Kansas City and maybe Seattle will start declining before too long. The difference between these three teams being that KC is arguably on the way up, while the other two seem stuck in neutral (and I think the Orioles removed their clutch sometime around the year 2000).

Me, I’m still hoping this is the year that the wheels come off of the Yankees’ pitching train.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 4 April 2007.

This week’s 52 may be the most muddled issue of the series. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, or why I should care. Didn’t they finish up the Intergang stuff months ago? Bleah.

My Dad I think summed up my feelings about Jack of Fables best in an e-mail: “When it was dealing with the group that captured him, it was pretty good, but when it’s just about his jerky self, not too hot.” Jack really is a jerk, and actually no one in the series is really someone you can root for. And the art is pretty so-so. I don’t think I’ll be buying it much longer.

“Planet Hulk” ends this month, and it’s just interesting enough that maybe I will pick up World War Hulk this summer.

I’ve been curious about Invincible for a long time now. The premise is that the hero is the son of a Superman-type figure who got married and had a kid, and Invincible inherits Omni-Man’s powers. (I’ve been spoiled and know that there’s more to it than that, but that’s the crux of the premise.) I did the math and it turns out that buying the Ultimate Collection hardcovers is about the same price as buying the trade paperbacks, and the hardcovers are, well, hardcover, not to mention using larger pages. Hence I went for the hardcover.

I’m about 4 issues into the volume so far, and it’s quite good. Robert Kirkman’s wry sense of humor brings a welcome levity (and reality) to what in many ways is a silver age comic series updated for the modern day. On the downside, the characters are pretty thin: The heroes are defined almost entirely by their powers, and the supporting cast have basically no personality. There’s no depth. Maybe that will change over time (I think the series has run more than 30 issues so far). Considering the series so far feels like a father/son series mixed with a coming-of-age story (and fortunately without the wacky hijinks that often accompany the “teenager discovers he has super powers” yarns these days, such as those which plagued Spyboy), it could benefit greatly from deeper characterization (but then, what story couldn’t?). Artist Cory Walker has a great sense of form and dynamism, but he could use an inker who could lend some complexity and (there’s that word again) depth to his layouts, as the art is often too spare for my tastes.

But overall, this one looks like a winner. The second collection is already out, and the third is due out this summer, so they ought to keep me busy for a while. Hopefully it gets better as it goes along.

A Little Light Poker

Thursday night Lee hosted a small-stakes poker game at his house. (Lee is one of my new friends whom I’ve mainly gotten to know through playing Magic.) There were 7 of us all together, and we started off with a little tournament: $10 per person in the kitty, top three spots paid. We started with $6000 in chips.

I had a pretty good session. My most memorable hand was one where three people called my $100 big blind, and I checked with 6-5o.

And the flop was 2-3-4. I’d flopped the nut straight.

Action was checked around to me, and I made a bet of around $200. Jamie (a new player I hadn’t met before) folded, and Daniel raised to $1000. Lee folded. It was a social game so there was a lot of chatting going on, but I thought for a bit and finally went all-in. Jamie folded, and Daniel thought for a lo-o-ong time. Finally he called.

And he winced when he saw my straight. Then I winced when I saw he had two pair – he had 2-3 – so he had 4 outs against me. But the turn and river didn’t help and I crippled his stack.

That as pretty nifty, though Daniel didn’t think so. He thought I had either top pair, or an overpair. I wouldn’t have gone in with top pair, and I would have been reluctant with any overpair less than 10s. But obviously he didn’t expect me to have a straight, he just ran into my moment of supreme luck. So I guess it was not a bad call on his part. I arguably could have just reraised rather than gone all-in since he probably would have folded anything less than two pair, but I felt the pot was already valuable enough that I wanted to take it down then.

I ended up getting knocked out in fourth place when I went all-in with Jacks, and Adam made the runner-runner wheel straight to beat me with his A-5. Gah.

We played a cash game after the tournament was over: $10 buy-ins, and nickel-dime blinds. So it was small stakes, but it was a good learning session. The cash game was basically Lee’s game as he won a couple of huge pots. I was pleased (on one hand I wasn’t in) that I correctly guessed that he had a set when he went all-in. I think he was surprised I had figured it out from his betting, alhough he may have figured I was just BSing him. I do make correct assessments like that from time to time, but it’s far from a consistent skill, unfortunately.

I checked out around 11:30 pm, but I had a great time. I’ve been enjoying getting to know these new friends of mine!

Ten Pounds!

The scale made it official this morning: I’ve lost ten pounds since the beginning of the year! That’s three pounds since my last update, and this despite basically pigging out for a weekend when Karen visited a few weeks ago.

I know weight fluctuates from day to day (today’s reading was 5 pounds lighter than it was on Monday, which was a local maximum), but it’s still cool to see numbers on the scale that I haven’t seen in several years.

The Subtle Game

RotoWorld makes an interesting point regarding dealing with Johan Santana, the best pitcher in baseball:

Manager Ozzie Guillen plans to leave several left-handed hitters in the lineup when the White Sox face Johan Santana Sunday.

Most teams stack the lineup with right-handed hitters, but Santana has actually been significantly better against righties than lefties over the years thanks to his world-class changeup. The Orioles had success against Santana on Opening Day when their lefties smacked four doubles off him and he’ll have to adjust if other teams catch on.

It’s interesting to see what teams decide to divulge about their strategies. But in the case of the White Sox, Guillen has a strong motivation to publicize his strategy against Santana: The Twins are a division rival, and it’s to their advantage to encourage other teams to employ a strategy which could result in more losses for the Twins.

And, indeed, RotoWorld is right, at least over the last three years. Actually, he was better against lefties in 2002 and 2003, about equal in 2004, and better against righties in 2005 and 2006.

Fantasy Baseball 2007

All about my 2007 fantasy baseball team.

This year is my 15th year playing fantasy baseball, and 9th year in this very tough league. I’ve finished as high as 3rd (out of 14 – now 16 – teams), and as low as 14th. My approach to preparing and my draft strategy keep evolving, but this year I returned to some basic principles that have worked for me before: Keep it simple, and draft for youth.

My returning core was basically what it’s been for a few years: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Jeremy Bonderman, Brett Myers, and a supporting cast of rookies or second-year players. But I needed to fill some of the “skill positions” (C, 2B, SS) and I desperately needed to draft a better pitching staff; pitching has been my bugaboo for years.

9 hours of draft later, this is what I went home with Sunday night:

Pos Player Team Round/
Age Comments
C Miguel Montero ARI Keeper 23
C Josh Bard SDN 6/87 29
C Dioner Navarro TBA 16/247 23
1B Albert Pujols SLN Keeper 27
2B Orlando Hudson ARI 5/71 29 The 2B pool was very thin this year. I picked Hudson over Jeff Kent, picking youth and a hitter’s park over age and Chavez Ravine.
2B Adam Kennedy SLN 21/327 31
2B Todd Walker OAK 12/177 34 Not sure how much he’ll play, even though he nominally qualifies at 1B, 2B and 3B. The one pick I made that I actually regret.
3B Miguel Cabrera FLO Keeper 24
3B Edwin Encarnacion CIN Keeper 24
SS Bill Hall MIL 1/7 27 Will probably qualify at OF before long.
SS Bobby Crosby OAK 10/151 27 I decided this was a good pick to roll the dice that Crosby can be healthy this year.
OF J.D. Drew BOS 3/39 31 I put my head in my hands when I made this pick. Frankly, Drew is a great player, but only when he’s not hurt.
OF Corey Hart MIL 4/55 25
OF Chris Young ARI Keeper 23
OF Shane Victorino PHI 9/135 26 In another youth-oriented pick, I chose him instead of Ken Griffey.
OF David DeJesus KCA 8/119 27 Another guy I hope stays healthy.
OF Josh Hamilton CIN 22/342 26 My last pick in the draft. Personal problems hae kept him out of baseball for several years, but he made the Major League team and could be good.
SP Brett Myers PHI Keeper 26
SP Jeremy Bonderman DET Keeper 24
SP Chris Capuano MIL 2/23 28
SP Bronson Arroyo CIN 3/35 30
SP Zack Greinke KCA 6/83 23 Comeback player of the year? He had a great spring training.
SP James Shields TBA 7/103 25 I like guys who don’t issue many walks.
SP Joe Blanton OAK 10/158 26
SP Livan Hernandez ARI 14/215 32
SP Mike Pelfrey NYN Keeper 23
SP Esteban Loaiza OAK 15/231 25 Starting the season on the DL
RP Justin Duchscherer OAK 11/167 29
RP Scott Linebrink SDN 13/199 20
RP Cla Meredith SDN 12/183 24
IN Billy Rowell BAL 18/279 18 Orioles’ 1st-round pick in 2006.
IN Carlos Gomez NYN 17/263 21 Mets prospect; reached AA at age 20.
IN Felix Pie CHN 18/286 22 Cubs prospect, probably ready to play this year, but it’s the Cubs.
IN Jacoby Ellsbury BOS 20/311 23 Red Sox center fielder of the future.
IN Luke Hochevar KCA 19/295 23 Royals’ 1st-round pick in 2006.

The big difference between this year and last year’s team (which was awful – I finished 10th out of 16 teams) is that I don’t have Bonderman, Myers, and the four stooges (Javier Vazquez, Matt Clement, Derek Lowe, and Jeff Suppan): Instead I have Bonderman, Myers, and five young guys with some upside, plus a LAIM (League Average Innings Muncher) in Hernandez, plus a top prospect in Pelfrey. So I’m very hopeful that my pitching will be greatly improved this year.

I’m also happy that I managed to execute my draft plan: I picked Bill Hall in the first round, figuring that he should be at worst an average shortstop, and perhaps an All-Star quality shortstop/outfielder. Then I picked two of the four pitchers I was targeting in Capuano and Arroyo (Aaron Harang and David Bush were the other two), and a nice supporting cast.

Certainly I have some risk: None of my pitchers are sure things. J.D. Drew could get hurt. My catchers could potentially all be busts. But on the other hand I have a lot of useful spare parts and if things come together I could actually have a great team.

I enjoyed the prospecting this year. I knew that Tim Lincecum and Homer Bailey would be picked early, but Luke Hochevar could be an excellent pickup as well. And I’m always on the lookout for “the next Miguel Cabrera”, the 20-year-old who’s playing well at Double-A. Carlos Gomez didn’t play nearly as well at AA as did Cabrera, but he did play there, and not badly. He could be a great one.

Last year was a season mired in drudgery. I’m very hopeful that this year’s team will be a lot more fun, and more successful.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 28 March 2007.

Once again, really last week’s haul, but I haven’t had time to update ’til now:

Fables this month answers 11 questions from readers about little details from the series so far. It’s basically an excuse for Bill Willingham to be (by turns) snarky, funny, or cute. One of the series’ fluffier issues, but entertaining.

Novelist Jodi Picoult starts writing Wonder Woman with #6. (I’m not sure what’s going to happen to the conclusion originally slated for #5, which instead was a ill-in issue.) Although much-anticipated (perhaps because of the long delays that dogged her predecessor Allan Heinberg’s run), this issue is in its way just as heavy-handed as the fill-in. I appreciate that Picoult is bringing the focus back to Diana trying to learn what it’s like to live as a more-or-less normal person in America, but her complete ignorance of how things such as pumping gas work is just painful to read, and not at all fun. Plus it undercuts the growth she’s seen as a character since she was rebooted in the 80s under George Perez. The characterization of Nemesis is also pretty annoying: He’s crass and rather buffoonish. All of which makes me wonder whether the Department of Metahuman Affairs actually screens their employees at all.

Drew Johnson’s art is a little too cartoonish for my tastes, and unfortunately just lends more weight (as it were) to the heavy-handed elements of the story. This is the first issue of (I think) a 5-part story, so it ends on a cliffhanger involving Circe (again??). Unfortunately what I really wish is that they’d take the spy elements and make them the center of the story. An updating of the “Diana Rigg” Wonder Woman of the 1970s could be genuinely different compared to what she’s been recently. Instead this new series has been a muddle so far, and Picoult’s debut issue doesn’t indicate that it’s going to get any better. But at least it ought to be on time.

The Dabel Brothers are the publishers bringing us the adaptations of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, and the prequel to Stephen King’s Dark Tower. This doesn’t, to me, spell “artistically adventurous”, but something about Half Dead cause me to order this collection of the 5-issue series. Written by Barb Lien-Cooper and Park Cooper, it takes place in a world where vampires are real, and where they signed a detente with the world governments, and had their ability to create new vampires chemically neutralized. Of course, technology being what it is, they’ve figured out a way around this, and some groups are now creating the “half dead”, who are partly vampires. Our herone is Romany, a dancer who is turned into a half dead, and who is employed by the British government to hunt down and kill her own kind.

The book has a frenetic pace and is loaded with interesting little ideas, but it doesn’t explore them in much depth and doesn’t feel very consistent, instead going for the sudden dramatic turns of events. So it doesn’t hold together that well as a story, but it’s still fairly entertaining. Jimmy Bott’s artwork reminds me a lot of that of the Luna Brothers in its simple linework and frequently-nondramatic layouts (neither of which I think are bad, truth to tell). It’s not a top-notch book, but it’s not bad. If the writing improved, I’d consider buying a sequel.

I appreciate Dean Motter‘s existence in the industry: His graphic sensibility, his sparse approach to writing, he’s been both influential and novel. Unfortunately, Unique isn’t his best stuff: It’s a haphazard parallel-worlds story in which people who only exist in one world can sometimes move between worlds. But neither the concept nor the story seem to have much structure, and Dennis Calero’s art makes the book feel too dreamlike, with its sparse – often absent or at least generic – backgrounds. The first issue is pretty routine set-up material, so there’s not, as yet, any there there. I’m not sure I’ll stick around to see what’s there when we get there.

(For what it’s worth, I think Motter’s best work is Terminal City. It doesn’t hurt that I think Michael Lark is a terrific artist and did a better job of bringing Motter’s architectural vision to life than any of his collaborators on Mister X or Electropolis did.)