Competitive Success

The last two nights have been competitive ones. For those who don’t want all the cory details, suffice to say that Thuesday night we had out first ultimate frisbee game of the season, and it went really well! And then last night Subrata and I went to Superstars for Friday Night Magic, which also went surprisingly well for me.

For those who do want the gory details, read on…

Frisbee was one of the better first-nights-of-the-season I can recall having. Although I was not in top condition, I was not nearly as exhausted by the end of it as I’d expected, and I was still playing decent points as things were winding down. In the last game I even had a three-point run where I made a hard cut to catch a score, and two points later icked up a turnover and hucked it into the end zone for a score – very rare for me since my arm is mediocre and so I don’t huck much. Subrata and I also hooked up for a score in the first game, when I caught a turnover and saw him break in the end zone – he made a nice catch to grab it as it flew past the guy covering him.

I think we were lucky that the rain held off ’til Friday; it was actually a terrific night for frisbee. Next week is our team’s bye week, and then we’ll play every non-holiday week until the end of the year. (The spring half of the season’s schedule will be up around New Year’s, I assume.)

Magic featured a 10-person booster draft, and Subrata and I were in the same draft for a change. This was our first time drafting the new Lorwyn set, which has a tribal theme, which means in addition to the color divisions there are also “tribes” of creatures (goblins, merfolk, faerie, treefolk, elves, etc.) who span colors. So you can get additional synergy among your cards by having many cards from the same tribe, or from tribes which interact with one another. I’d done many single-player practice drafts of Lorwyn and felt ready to try the real thing.

Unfortunately, coming out of the draft I felt like I’d blown it completely: I ended up with a mix of blue/white/red with very little tribal interaction. I felt like the colors coming my way changed every 8 picks or so, and I had extended stretches towards the end where I was getting few-if-any cards in any of my three colors! So I worked to cobble together a deck, deciding to punt on white and going blue/red, mainly because that’s where most of my tricks and creature removal lay.

Things didn’t look much brighter after my first match, where I quickly lost the first two games (in best-of-three), and aso lost the consolation game, although I put up a good fight there.

For the second match I was up against Subrata, and to my surprise my deck suddenly came together, and I beat him 2 out of 3 games. The final match was against a regular at the store whom I’d played before, and again to my surprise I won two out of three, and the loss was by the slimmest of margins. So despite what I thought was a mishmash of a draft, I ended up with my best showing at a draft at this store to date!

I think I enjoy draft the best when learning a new set, since finding the emergent properties of some of the cards is a heck of a lot of fun. I’d reasoned out some of them in my practice drafts, but nothing beats actually playing with the cards. I think my deck’s best bit of interaction went like this:

  1. Played Flamekin Harbinger and searched my deck for my Changeling Berserker (which, being a Changeling, is also an Elemental).
  2. Championed the Flamekin Harbinger with the Changeling Berserker, removing the former from play.
  3. Played my Mistbound Clique, championing the Berserker (which counts as a Faerie since it’s a Changeling). This brings the Flamekin Harbinger back into play, so I get to search my library again, this time for Consuming Bonfire – an Elemental sorcery.
  4. Kill Subrata’s Changeling Hero with the Bonfire, since he’d just searched for it with his own Harbinger so I knew he was going to play it. He knew I had a way to kill it, but he had little choice at that point in the game, since I had a 4/4 flyer on the board.

(n.b.: Any game in which my opponent says “Damn you!” is a good game, regardless of whether I win or lose.)

Between our decks, Subrata and I both learned the value of Harbingers and Champions in Lorwyn. Green has two terrific harbingers: Elvish Harbinger also produces multicolored mana, and Treefolk Harbinger lets you search for Forests as well as some killer Treefolk, such as the Dauntless Dourbark that Subrata had, not to mention the Changeling Titan. (Happily, Changelings are also Treefolk, so Consuming Bonfire can take down the Titan easily enough.)

Subrata also noted (indirectly) that my deck had some nifty acceleration in it. The Inner-Flame Acolyte can target itself when it comes into play, meaning you get a 4/2 creature with Haste for 3 mana, making it highly desirable to make trades in the first two turns so the board is clear for it to thwack your opponent on turn 3. (I had two Acolytes, which was awesome.) And the Blades of Velis Vel can give two creatures +2/+0, which can work really well in trading small creatures for large creatures, or thwacking your opponent hard if he chooses not to block.

The other new mechanic in Lorwyn that I like is Clash. There are several good creatures in Lorwyn who are reasonably priced for their basic stats: I had two of them, an Adder-Staff Boggart which is 1R for a 2/1, and a Paperfin Rascal, which is 2U for a 2/2 – both perfectly reasonable. But when you play them, you Clash, which means the following occurs:

  1. You reveal the top card of your library, and have the choice of leaving it on top or putting it on the bottom. This is like doing a Scry 1, except that your opponent knows what the card was.
  2. Your opponent gets to do the same thing, which obviously isn’t good for you, but isn’t the worst thing.
  3. If you win the Clash, then your creature gets +1/+1, permanently. This means the creatures I had would be a 3/2 or a 3/3 respectively, for the same cost.

I was very lucky in winning my Clashes, I probably won 2/3ds of them, which helped make my desk faster. Clash is even niftier if you have what I think of as “Clash enhancers”, like Sylvan Echoes or Entangling Trap. Subrata had some of these enhancers, but fortunately they didn’t get into play early enough to hose me. Also fortunately, I didn’t play against someone with Hunter of Eyeblights, which would be death to such creatures.

(There’s some interesting stuff about the background of Clash here.)

I’m less impressed with the other major Lorwyn mechanic, Evoke. It’s sort of a “consolation prize” for a creature card if you don’t have the mana to play the creature, which is better than nothing at all, but it’s not usually a reason to draft a card. I don’t think I played a card with Evoke once during the night. It would be more useful if playing a card for its Evoke cost allowed you to play it as an Instant, but that’s not the case. Bummer. Contrast with the Champion mechanic where the “additional cost” of removing a creature to play the champion can actually be a useful bit of trickery rather than a penalty.

As for the other two Lorwyn mechanics, I think Hideaway is a neat idea, but the cards using it are of questionable value. Future cards might use it more effectively. On the other hand, the new Planeswalker card type is undoubtedly cool, as are all five of the Lorwyn Planeswalkers. Subrata drafted Jace Beleren, but fortunately I never saw him. (You can read pretty much everything you need to know about Planeswalkers here.)

So from first experience Lorwyn gets a big “thumbs up” from me. I still think I could have drafted better than I did, but I’m very happy that I fielded a competitive deck, even if I did sort of stumble into it. Next time maybe I’ll actually come out of the draft feeling like I have the building blocks of a solid deck. I still feel like I have some sort of mental block when drafting quality cards that work well together. If I ever figure out how to get past that, then I’ll be in a happy place.

Pesto!

Last night was fun with our new food processor.

On the way home I stopped at the brand new and freakin’ huge Whole Foods in Cupertino and picked up a few things. Getting home a little late, I put together some garlic bread: Crushed garlic and fresh-ground parmesan cheese mixed into butter, spread on top of sliced french bread, and baked for 12 minutes.

While it was baking I started making fresh homemade pesto. A basil plant I potted several months ago has been going nuts, so I had plenty of basil for the mix, along with garlic cloves, pine nuts, a little parsley, and olive oil. After processing it to a creamy smoothness I mixed in salt and parmesan (ended up needing more salt than I’d first expected, and probably could have used even more). The bread was out by this time, so I boiled water and prepared some shell pasta.

It all came together really well, and man was the pesto fresh and strong! Definitely something to make again, and I wonder if the pesto might taste even better after sitting overnight to mellow. Hard to say, though we do have a little left over. But still: Mm-mm-mm-mm-mm!

We did manage to kill every vampire in a one-mile radius, though. Garlic city, I’m telling you.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 10 October 2007.

Welcome to the 52nd installment of This Week’s Haul! Wow, I’ve been at it for a whole year? Then it must be time to try out a slightly different format! I bet this works poorly in the syndication feed, though.

  • Booster Gold #3, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown #29 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Manual Garcia & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise the Flag #2 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Nova #7, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen, Scott Hanna & Brian Denham (Marvel)
  • Powers: Cosmic vol 10 TPB, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • The Clockwork Girl #1, by Sean O’Reilly, Kevin Hanna & Grant Bond (Arcana)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
Countdown #29 It’s all over the comics blogosphere that Countdown has been quite a muddle. Rich Johnston reported that the fur may be flying at DC editorial over the series’ sales (though of course Rich Johnston writes an admittedly-biased rumor column, so take it with a grain of salt). With the series nearly half-over, Countdown #29 amply illustrates the series’ muddled storytelling:

  • A generic “battle” cover which doesn’t occur in the book, featuring a plot thread which occupies a single page of the issue.
  • The introduction of some rather nasty supporting characters, who will apparently be the protagonists of an upcoming series – but who cares? (I guess they’ve appeared before, but I still don’t care.)
  • Half the issue is spent on four of the separate storylines, not really advancing any of them. (Graeme McMillan notes that he skipped two issues and didn’t really miss anything.)
  • A minor supporting character, the Jokester, who joined the world-traveling crew a few issues ago, is unceremoniously killed off for no good reason.
  • And it’s still not at all clear why we’re bothering with all this world-hopping in the first place, since it’s been just one random encounter after another.

It all comes down to writing: It’s just not good. There’s no sense of where the story is going (any of the stories), or even if it’s indeed going anywhere.. This is just the opposite of 52 which set up mysteries and adventures, and steadily resolved them. Not every plot thread worked, but as a whole it was entertaining. Countdown is just a messy assortment of stuff. The problem isn’t that the creators aren’t big names, it’s that there’s no direction, and no focus. I suspect this is either due to authorial mastermind Paul Dini not having come up with a good enough framework for the series, or else due to poor editorial direction.

Nova #7 Although I enjoy Nova, issue #7 ends up being rather a big nothing: Nova throws off the yoke of the Phalanx in somewhat-predictable fashion, escapes… and apparently isn’t going to have any substantial impact on the Annihilation Conquest story. So it ends up being rather pointless. Plus the cover is bland (although nicely rendered). It’s the first big misfire for either this series or the Annihiliation Conquest event, which is a pity since they’ve both been quite good before this point.

(It’s slightly disturbing that Chen is already being spelled by a fill-in artist for parts of the issues, though it helps that I hardly notice when the pages alternate between Chen and Denham while I’m actually reading the comic. Chen is a terrific artist – I first picked up Nova mainly because he’s on it – so I guess this means Denham’s pretty good, too. I hope Chen isn’t planning on leaving the book, though.)

Powers: Cosmic vol 10 TPB On a brighter note, Powers is the magnum opus of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming. I’ve not been able to warm to either of their works other than this one, but Powers is really good: The ongoing story of two cops who work cases related to superheroes and supervillains, it ran for three years with Image Comics and then moved to Marvel’s Icon imprint. The first series revealed that Christian Walker used to be a hero, until he lost his powers, and then a superhero-created disaster resulted in powers being outlawed in the U.S. This new series ups the stakes as both Christian and his partner Deena Pilgrim get forced into increasingly risky scenarios, partly through choice and partly through circumstance. This latest volume, Cosmic, opens with the death of an unknown – but immensely powerful – hero, and the consequences that his death has for Christian.

Bendis’ hallmark as a writer is that he writes copious dialogue. His characters tend to be smartasses, often foul-mouthed and philosophical at the same time. In my opinion, his style doesn’t work at all when he writes for mainstream Marvel comic books, but it works fine in his own world, with its gritty and grimy settings and populace. Oeming’s relatively simple linework seems cartoony at first glance, but it actually works quite well with Bendis’ scripts, conveying the weight of the situations while still leaving room for the gleaming, four-color-style linework for the heroes; in other words, balancing the dark realism with the superpowered sense of awe. Weaving between the two extremes is what makes the book work – that and Bendis’ unflinching ability to keep raising the stakes for his protagonists while still keeping them grounded in their day-to-day jobs.

(My biggest regret about the second series is that Deena’s sunny, smartass personality has been fading under the weight of her burdens. On the other hand, it seems that Deena and Christian are on opposite trajectories in their respective stories, so no doubt this is all deliberate.)

Powers can be brutal and bloody at times, so it’s not for the squeamish. It is, however, well worth following for anyone who appreciates deconstructive approaches to the superhero genre.

(Although this is a good volume, if you haven’t read it before then you’re better off starting at the beginning, or at least the start of the second series.)

The Clockwork Girl #1 I reviewed the preview issue of The Clockwork Girl a few months ago, and the first full issue is pretty much what I expected, feeling very much like the opening act of a Disney film (which, y’know, isn’t always a bad thing). It features a young mechanical girl being unveiled to the public by her mad-scientist father, and her attracting the eye of a young wolf-boy created by a different scientist. The art is dynamic and polished. The cover is very neat, too, with an “Alice-in-Wonderland-but-not-really” feel to it. There’s every reason to think that this could be a good, all-ages read. Worth seeking out.

Kitty Update

Most of my weekend was taken up with reading, specifically reading Joan Vinge’s Catspaw for our book discussion group, as well as its predecessor Psion. More about then later.

Besides that we got together with Subrata and Susan on Friday night for dinner and games – we’ve apparently hooked Susan on playing dominoes. We had an excellent time, reducing ourselves to complete hysterical laughter by the end of the evening, which is always a good way to start a weekend.

The other component of the weekend was less fun, though. As I mentioned not long ago, Jefferson has been having some digestive issues, for which he got to take antibiotics and then some stuff to help his digestive tract. The former stuff was liquid which he absolutely hated (and got to take twice a day – lucky us), while the latter is a powder I mix into some wet food which he absolutely loves. (And so do the other three cats, which means I get to spend ten minutes herding them away from him so he can eat in peace.)

Well, Saturday afternoon Jeff started behaving strangely: First he started yelping at the other cats when they got too close to him, and then he decided to spend Saturday evening and most of Sunday upstairs under the futon in the study. He didn’t even come down for dinner.

Sunday afternoon I tried bringing him up a bowl of water, and he immediately pulled himself over to the bowl and drank from it. So we tried bringing up some food at mealtime, and he was perfectly happy to eat that, too. By the evening he started coming out from under the futon, and he spent an hour on the futon with Debbi. This morning he came down for dinner, and also came to check me out of his own accord while I was lying in bed trying to get up. He went back to lie on the futon after breakfast, but didn’t seem as skittish as he was before.

So we’re not sure what happened. I talked to the vet this morning and it sounds like his medications are likely not the culprit, since he’s been on them for over a week and they’re not the sort of thing likely to build up to a “critical mass” change in his behavior. So he might have just gotten an upset tummy for some reason, or maybe he ate something he wasn’t supposed to and it laid him low for a day. I dunno.

Hopefully he’ll be back to normal by tomorrow, and then all I have to worry about is his original digestive problems, which haven’t gotten any better that I can tell, but don’t seem to be bothering him very much, either.

If you’d asked me a few years ago which cat would have caused me the most trouble as he moved into old age, I’d have said Newton. But other than losing some weight (probably due to a borderline-high thyroid, but not one so high that the vet thinks he needs medication yet), he seems healthy as a horse. Even his teeth – in lousy shape for most of his life – seem to be holding up well! So he’ll probably be wrestling with Blackjack for years to come. But it looks like Jefferson is going to be getting better acquainted with the vet over the next few years.

Sheesh.

R.I.P. Abadazad – Again

Abadazad was a fantasy adventure series by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog which began life as a comic book published by the late, lamented Crossgen. When CGI folded, it was reborn as a series of illustrated prose novels published by Hyperion Books. Hyperion published two volumes: The Road to Inconceivable and The Dream Thief. Abadazad was strongly inspired by L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, but took the tack of suggesting that what was published in the books wasn’t what really happened. Still, despite being a little more “realistic”, Abadazad was still simply a fun adventure story, it didn’t take the “postmodern Oz” approach of making the world darker and grimmer to appeal to modern sensisibilities.

Unfortunately, DeMatteis reports that Hyperion has decided to stop publishing Abadazad. The third book, The Puppet, The Professor and The Prophet, has been published in the U.K., but will not be published in the U.S.

All of which is too bad. Although I didn’t think it was a groundbreaking series, it was fun, and Ploog’s art was terrific (even in the illustrated-prose format), so I’m hoping it will pop up again somewhere sometime, and finish the story.

Partytime!

I think we spent nearly the whole weekend at parties, and the rest of the weekend (well, maybe not that long) taking care of a friend’s cats. Busy weekend!

Friday night I had people over to play poker. So there were six of us, and Debbi came down to say hi occasionally, but otherwise spent the evening up in the study. Poker went well, although I played fairly poorly. People joked that our table had a tendency to make the chips rolls when they tossed them – probably just dumb luck. And everyone enjoyed having the cats around when they finally came down to check everyone out. Ironically, Andrew’s girlfriend Lindsay was suffering from allergies to the cats, but ended up cleaning up when it came to the chips!

Saturday my friend Lee hosted a birthday party, with a gaming theme. We went out beforehand and I picked up a copy of The Great Dalmuti as a gift. We headed over and hung out for most of the rest of the day. I did a little gaming, and we chatted with some friends we hadn’t seen in quite a while. Pizza was ordered from Patxi’s, which was pretty good even though I’m not a big fan of deep dish (give me thin crust pizza any day), as well as cake from the king of local cake bakeries, The Prolific Oven. Mmm-mmm!

In the evening as people headed out, we convened another poker game. I took Debbi home first and then came back to play. I had another mediocre session (weak cards/bad luck/not aggressive enough; I still need to work on that last point), and ran out of energy around midnight and headed home. James told me today that the game lasted until 4 am! Yow! I definitely wouldn’t have been making good poker decisions that late into the night.

Sunday we went over to my friend Ray‘s apartment for a birthday/housewarming party for him and his wife Sarah, as they have the same birthday. I haven’t seen Ray in a while (since he no longer works with me) and had a lot of fun nattering with him. I should invite him to dinner sometime for more of the same. I didn’t know the other guests who came, but it was generally a lively and fun bunch. I think Debbi was experiencing some geek overload after a whole weekend with many of my programmer friends, so we headed out after a couple of hours, and eventually came home to collapse on the couch for the rest of the day.

I’m not generally a really social creature, but I had a lot of fun hanging out with everyone, even though I was pretty exhausted by the end of the whole weekend! I think I’ll need a nice lazy weekend soon. But it was worth it.

Now I just have to plow through the books for the book discussion group next weekend…

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 3 October 2007.

  • Countdown #30 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Metal Men #3 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranquility #11, by Gail Simone, Neil Googe & Irene Flores (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Annihilation Book One TPB, by Keith Giffen & Mitch Breitweiser, Scott Kolins & Ariel Olivetti, and Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kev Walker & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Ms. Marvel #20, by Brian Reed, Greg Toccini & Roland Paris (Marvel)
  • Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #2 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #7-10, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
  • Atomic Robo #1 of 6, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
  • Modern Masters: Jerry Ordway TPB vol 13, edited by Eric Nolen-Weathington (TwoMorrows)

Metal Men #3I feel like Metal Men is getting a little too byzantine for my enjoyment: It’s becoming harder to figure out what time period events are occurring in, and why they’re all part of the same story. There’s the present day, a few years ago, and then quite a few years ago back when Will Magnus was creating the Metal Men. Rouleau’s art is really neat, but I think the story’s structure is essentially reducing the characters to caricatures (Magnus’ final line in this issue – “you jerk!” – ring completely false for him). There’s still plenty of time left for everything to work out, but I wonder if Rouleau’s ambition has exceeded his writing talents here.

Having enjoyed the current Annihilation Conquest event at Marvel, I’m picking up the trades of the first Annihilation series. I haven’t finished this first one yet, but it sure does have terrific artwork. As with the current series, I like how Giffen and company have carved out this space in the Marvel Universe to play in so they can tall big, character-changing stories without needing to tie closely into the main Marvel continuity.

Ms. Marvel #20I think Ms. Marvel #20 is the last issue of this series I’ll be buying. There’s just been too much thrash and not enough progress. In many ways I think this series was just cursed by the Civil War, but it also feels like writer Brian Reed doesn’t have a firm idea of the direction the series is going in. After 20 issues, I feel like the story should have gotten somewhere, and it hasn’t. The last page suggests that it might be getting close, but only regarding one of its many story elements. The central theme of the series’ launch – that of Ms. Marvel trying to become one of the premier superheroes in her world – seems to have been lost along the way.

For an opposing opinion, here’s Aaron Glazier’s review at Comics Nexus. It’s like we’re reading different books: I hate how Machine Man is portrayed here, I find the characters weak and the storylines very muddy and directionless. I do agree that the art is quite good, but that’s not enough for me.

The Boys #10The Boys #7-10 comprises the third story arc in the series, and it’s a lot worse than the first two (which are in the collection I reviewed last week). It opens with Tek Knight, a superhero with a severe sexual dysfunction – but this one not only feels gratuitous (and not a little bit ridiculous), but it’s almost entirely irrelevant to the overall story. Here, Butcher and Hughie set out to find some justice for a young gay man who was found dead in the street some weeks previous, taking them on a short odyssey into the personal lives of several local heroes. That part of the story is actually rather good, and it throws some light on a particular dark facet of what superheroes might be pressured to do through their public image as do-gooders. But the Tek Knight elements are just superfluous. It’s like Ennis felt the story wouldn’t be shocking without the sexual deviancy, but even if less shocking, it would have been a much better story had it been shorted and focused to just the investigation of the presumed murder.

Atomic Robo #1Atomic Robo is pretty neat: Early in the 20th century Nikola Tesla builds an atomic-powered sentient robot who (the book’s introductiont tells us) helps shape the rest of the century. This issue introduces the character in 1938, who at that time is not yet considered a free person, but basically the story is an adventure: He’s sent to the Himalayas to stop a Nazi plot. Although the dialogue is full of anachronisms, the book generally taps the same sense of fun and period adventure as Captain Gravity and some segments of Hellboy. Wegener’s art of reminiscent of Michael Avon Oeming’s at its best (Oeming did the cover of this first issue), although many panels are background-free. Overall it’s a fun issue, and there’s plenty of promise here, although there’s definitely a sense that this might just be a frivolous adventure yarn without a greater purpose. But that’s not the worst thing in the world.

(Why is it that I can enjoy a book, and yet lament that it doesn’t feel like something that will be cohesive in the long term, or have some ultimate direction or destination? Can’t I just enjoy it for what it is? Well, I can enjoy it, but it’s the books that deliver more than their basic narrative that end up sticking in my memory.)

Lastly, if you’re a fan of comic book art in general, I do recommend TwoMorrows’ Modern Masters series. These slim paperback volumes consist of extensive interviews with their respective creators, and a large collection of often-previously-unseen-or-rare artwork by those artists. So you learn a lot about the artist’s career and philosophy, and get to see a lot of art you might not have seen before. I’ve been cherry-picking the volumes of the artists I’m really interested in, which means I’ve picked up about half the volumes.

Stress Puppy

Insanely busy lately.

I have a little list of things to do for my house. One of these – refinancing my mortgage – should be pretty easy and is already underway. Other things are going to take more effort and thought: Putting in new windows, replacing the kitchen dispose-all, figuring out what’s up with one of the lights in the master bathroom… that sort of thing.

Meanwhile work is hopping lately. Lots of meetings and design and planning for a bunch of different projects, and meanwhile I’m ripping code apart and putting it back together. It’s a pretty lively time, but it’s keeping me plenty busy.

I was having trouble sleeping earlier this week, which I almost never do. I’m a heavy sleeper, and usually find it very easy to fall asleep, but the latter point was failing me Sunday and Monday night. I got over it on Tuesday, but it left me pretty tired for the rest of the week. I still managed to get up early for my morning bike ride on Tuesday and Thursday, though.

And to top it off, Debbi had a rough day today, and I was feeling stressed on her behalf. She always tells me not to be stressed like this, because it doesn’t do any good. But I do worry about things. If you know me, you probably think of me as a pretty laid-back person, but sometimes I get really wound up when I’m juggling too many tasks, or things I feel not-well-suited to deal with.

It’s not all work and stress, though: The new Magic expansion, Lorwyn, is nearly out, and the card list has been posted. Also, TCGPlayer has Lorwyn set up in their practice booster draft engine.

Better yet, the baseball playoffs have started. My Red Sox dominated their first game (the first round is all best-of-five series), and the Indians beat the Yankees. I’ll root for one of these two to win the World Series – the Sox are my team, and the Tribe are my grandfather’s team. I’m more indifferent to the National League, where the Rockies won the first 2 games against the Phillies (making one of my cow-orkers happy, and another not so much), and the Diamondbacks won the first 2 against the Cubs (sorry RJ). I think all of the American League teams are better than any of the National League teams (well, maybe not the Angels), and generally more interesting teams to boot. I kind of like the Diamondbacks, though, since they’ve reinvented themselves the last few years as a team of exciting young players, and I think they’re doing a lot of things right.

Anyway.

Admittedly my seasonal affective disorder might have something to do with my feelings of stress. I’ll get through it.

Especially if the Red Sox keep winning. Or, failing that, the Yankees keep losing.

Jasper Fforde: Lost in a Good Book

Review of the novel Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde.

It’s been several years since I read The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde’s first book about Thursday Next of the British Special Operations Network, which means I’m now about four books behind. So I’d better get cracking, huh?

Lost in a Good Book spends a couple of chapters recapping the events of The Eyra Affair before launching into its own story: The Goliath Corporation wants to get back its operative Jack Schitt, who was trapped in the pages of a copy of The Raven at the end of the previous book, and naturally it also wants to find out how to get into and out of works of fiction, and Schitt’s half-brother Schitt-Hawse is convinced that Thursday knows how to do it, and he’s willing to use extreme measures to get what he wants. Thursday also notices that an awful lot of coincidences are occurring around her, and they’re not happy coincidences. Lastly, her time-travelling father turns up again and warns her that the end of the world appears to be nigh, unless one of them can figure out what’s going to happen and how to stop it. And in the middle of all this, Thursday is recruited to work for Jurisfiction, an organization of real and fictional people who work together to prevent the sorts of damage to works of fiction that Acheron Hades attempted in the first book.

Lost in a Good Book can be summed up as “more of the same” – if you enjoyed The Eyre Affair then you’ll probably enjoy this one. It does suffer from “second in a series syndrome”, though: The first book came to a decisive conclusion and a happy ending, while this one has a lot of setup for a longer storyline. Some things do get resolved (that’s right, the world doesn’t end), but the driving force behind Thursday’s angst is left hanging, and she ends up having to retreat from the world in a sort-of cliffhanger for the next novel.

My recollection of reading Eyre was that the going-into-a-fictional-work stuff was the least interesting idea in the story, and it’s certainly the least interesting idea in this one. Jurisfiction is all well and good, but whenever Thursday had popped into its world or some other book I keep wishing we could get back to the time travel and genetically engineers neanderthals and demons and stuff. It looks like it’s going to be a central element of the later books, though, so I guess I’d better get used to it if I’m going to keep reading.

I’m not that down on the book, though. Fforde’s writing style is still wry and lighthearted, which keeps the book moving along even in its darker moments. Thursday’s life is populated with a variety of entertaining characters, especially her family and her peers at work (her bosses and other bigwigs are less entertaining, and perhaps take the theme of bureaucratic oppression too far at times). I especially enjoy Spike, the occult-creature hunter who’s ostracized within SO, but who’s befriended by Thursday since they’re both outsiders of a sort.

Overall I’d say that Lost is a step backwards overall from Eyre, mainly because it mostly explores the elements from the first book I was least interested in, and it’s not as tight a novel. It’s still entertaining and is a quick read, so as sheer entertainment it works out just fine. I keep feeling like Fforde could have turned this series into something a lot more memorable if he’d just taken it in a different direction, though.

Various Friends

I’ve had a week of seeing several friends. Which is a good thing!

First, I have a cow-orker from Sweden, Joar, who just moved to America last weekend, so I invited him and his wife out to dinner with me and Debbi Tuesday night. They met us at our house and we drove downtown to have dinner at Amici’s and then walk down and back through downtown Mountain View. I can’t remember the last time I met someone who had just moved to America, so it’s been very interesting learning about the immigration process and all the things they’ve had to adjust to. For instance, living in a suburban environment where cars are a necessity, rather than in a city where you can just use public transit. So I’ve been giving them some advice about traffic patterns and distances and weather and so forth (and was up-front about the fact that I’m something of a snob about living on the peninsula, as I didn’t care much for living in the valley proper).

Even though Joar’s come out to visit several times since he started working on our team, I figured they might enjoy a night out and away from all the tasks they have to tackle this week.

Wednesday evening I felt like I had the beginnings of a cold, and it got worse as the night wore on, so I called in sick on Thursday – a rare day when I felt like I didn’t have anything pressing so I could stay home without any worries! So it was a nice quiet day of watching DVDs and reading – and blowing my nose a lot.

Friday I felt better and headed back into work. In the evening Subrata and I headed over to Superstars for their Friday Night Magic draft. I drafted a somewhat unremarkable white-black deck, although that’s a big step up from my last two drafts, which were awful! I felt like I was competitive in most of my games, even though I lost more than I won, and at least two of my games were lost more due to bad luck than bad play. So that’s a step forward, right?

Saturday we drove down to Los Gatos for our friends Lisa and Michel’s baby shower. It was in a nice little park off a main park, and although it was a little chilly, it was otherwise a very nice day (perfectly clear and sunny – our party’s campsite just happened to be in the shade) and everyone had a very nice time. I was able to reacquaint myself with many of Lisa & Michel’s friends and family, whom I only see every couple of years, it seems like.

Unfortunately, Debbi ended up catching a cold of her own (or maybe she caught my cold, except mine didn’t come with a sore throat like hers did), so today we had a fairly quiet day, other than a run to the supermarket and to get my hair cut. I cooked Indian food for dinner (Debbi says it helped clean out her sinuses! And I got to use our new food processor to make cashew nut butter) and I did some work in the yard.

Only a little to report on the cat front since Tuesday’s trip to the vet: Jefferson has been taking antibiotics for a few days (which he hates) but he’s still having his bathroom issues. Newton apparently has a hyperactive thyroid, which is not unusual for an older cat, so he’ll get some medicine of his own soon. But otherwise they’re both in pretty good health.

My goal for October is to feel like I’m not stretched as thin. August and September just flew by with everything I’ve been doing! (Or do I say that every month?)