Very Little Romance, Plenty of Dragons

Nerds looking for something to read this summer could do a lot worse than His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik.

I know, I know...I know what you're thinkin', and I thought the same thing. Dragons are soooooo overdone and overused in fantasy novels. Sometimes they've been used well (nowehere better than in The Hobbit, but of course, dragons weren't cliche when Tolkien wrote the legendary confrontation between Bilbo and Smaug). They're well-used more as plot points than anything else in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and Robin Hobb's epic Farseer/Liveship Traders/Tawny Man trilogy-of-trilogies, to cite a couple of recent examples. But as far as books actually revolving around dragons, I kinda figured that Christopher Paolini's dreadful-but-inexplicably-popular Eragon was the final nail in the coffin. I'll readily admit that I liked Eragon when I read it, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it didn't contain a single shred of original ideas - not only that, but its annoying cliches were badly written to add insult to injury.

But I digress - the point is, Naomi Novik has done something fascinatingly original and just plain wikid cool with dragons in His Majesty's Dragon (which is followed by two sequels, Throne of Jade and Black Powder War, both of which I will eagerly devour at the soonest opportunity). Instead of the generic Tolkien-lite fantasy realm that so many fantasy novelists turn out by rote, Novik places her dragons in the real world of England in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars. The nation waits with bated breath for news from Nelson's blockade of Villeneuve's fleet at Cadiz. Captain Will Laurence, a Navy man reluctantly forced into service as an aviator, trains for battle with his newly-hatched dragon partner, Temeraire. Events spin as they must in a fantasy novel, and Laurence and Temeraire are soon forced into service defending England's shores against the Froggies. That's really all there is to it; plot-wise, the whole thing is fairly simple and not entirely unpredictable.

But Novik writes with wit and style, and makes the relationship between Laurence and Temeraire believable and often quite funny. She integrates dragons and their use as weapons of war into actual history with almost effortless grace. It was simple as steering a train to suspend my disbelief and imagine that dragons were there, the aerial equivalent of ships-of-the-line, complete with captains, lieutenants (my American mind keeps saying "loo-tenant," even though I know that the Brits would be saying "lef-tenant"), gun crews and midwingmen (rather than midshipmen, natch). The logic and belief she applies to this imagined world is flawless.

This isn't just another iteration of "romance novels with dragons." There are dragons, to be sure, but this is something quite new, and quite good.

Juicy Juicy Manga

Neil Gaiman attended some sort of big, bookish, nerdy convention or festival or something recently, and in part of his report on the event, he wrote this: "Also attended (as an audience member) a panel for librarians on Graphic Novels, which left me with the distinct feeling that, if I had been a librarian and had known nothing about what was out there in graphic novels and gone to that panel for information, I would have come away with the impression that most graphic novels are manga."

This does seem to be an increasing problem in the comics world these days. We're hearing more and more about manga...which is fine, as it goes. Don't get me wrong, I love manga as much as the next nerd (unless the next nerd is one of those super-manga-obsessed type of nerds). Lone Wolf and Cub and the work of Osamu Tezuka are particular favorites. But it kind of dismays me to see the manga taking over the "Graphic Novel" (ugh, by the way, but I digress) section of bookstores.

Everyone talks about manga, and the newsmedia reports on its growing popularity, giving us all the same old tropes over and over - Japanese commuters read it on the subway, there's different kinds of manga that appeal to every gender and every age group from tiny girls to venerable old men, yadda yadda yadda. I'm no expert, but my understanding is that many of the old tropes are badly informed at best, but that's neither here nor there.

Anything that brings more readers to the comics medium is a good thing, no doubt. The problem is that it's a very exciting time in American/European comics. There's a ton of great artists out there doing more exciting work than ever before. Craig Thompson, Seth, Jason Lutes, Marjane Satrapi, Richard Sala, Jeff Smith, Charles Burns, Harvey Pekar and many, many more are doing great things, things that deserve to be read and discussed.

Yet American comics are steadily losing shelf space to manga. And what American comics remain on the shelves are, by and large, not the innovative and interesting work. It's Marvel's "Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 3." and DC's "Another Batman Collection Where Batman Acts All Grim and Broody and Then Beats the Crap out of the Penguin or the Riddler or Something."

So even as American comics get better and better, the good stuff becomes harder and harder to find at Barnes & Noble or Borders. Sure, if you're lucky enough to live in Berkeley, you can get to Comic Relief and find pretty much anything you're looking for. But if you're stuck looking for comics at the big box bookstores like so many folks, if you don't like superheroes or shôjo (that's girly-manga to the unititiated, the kind that dominates the shelf space, stuff that appeals mostly to teenage girls), you're just outta luck.

And that's just plain shitty, man.

Nothing says "Gay Pride" like Turkey Legs

AOL's CityGuide says this of Denver's PrideFest: "A grand show of unity and unabashed celebration, Denver's annual PrideFest parade and festival ranks among the nation's top 10 largest gatherings of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people."

It gets so tiresome hearing psuedo-Christian assholes telling us about how th' homos are evil and how allowing equal marriage rights would "destroy the institution of marriage" and all that it's nice to go wander around PrideFest and see all the drag queens and Dykes on Bikes - and, of course, just ordinary, average folks not terribly different at all from you or me out on a summer afternoon in T-shirts and sandals - being who they are and having fun.

And that's where I think the gay community really has it all over the anti-gay-rights crowd. They're so much more fun! The homophobes of the world are so angry all the time, they yell so much, they're so gloom-and-doom. The gay community has plenty of reason to be pissed and dour, too - being told by a small but inordinately loud portion of the population that they're inherently evil and sinful, being at the center of a bafflingly huge socio-political controversy becasue they want to have the same rights as straight people. It's gotta be a downer, and I imagine that a lot of gay people do spend some amount of time being angry and depressed. But PrideFest isn't angry, it isn't all shouting and vitriol. It's fun. It's a gathering of people who have every right and every reason to be angry and it's a perfect opportunity for them to vent their rage. But they don't. PrideFest is about exactly what its name says: pride. And you can't have pride without joy, right? Well, you can't if you're any good at it, anyway. There's music and dancing and overpriced beer and mirth and laughter and, of course, grilled turkey legs. God forbid there should ever be a public event or festival in this country where you can't get a grilled turkey leg for nine tickets, because then there'll be hell to pay.

In the end, I think those of us who support equal rights will ultimately win. First and foremost because, goddammit, we're right, just like the people who fought for women's suffrage were right, and the people who fought against segregation and Jim Crow laws were right. Call me a starry-eyed optimist if you must, but I really do believe that the power of being right about something is overwhelming and will always win in this country, given enough blood, sweat, tears and toil. But beyond that, there's a fundamental difference between the people who are at the heart of of this issue, and it's this: the Fors have more life, spirit and joie-de-vivre than the Againsts with their dour "God Hates Fags" doomsaying can possibly imagine.

Mmm...turkey leg...

Even good radio sucks

Sometimes, when I'm doing stuff around the house, I turn on the radio.

In fact, I start most days with "Morning Edition" to accompany my breakfast - eating Kashi GoLean Crunch, drinking green tea, listening to NPR...could I be more of a liberal crunchy psuedo-hippie weenie? Anyway, after "Morning Edition" ends at 10:00, on comes "Colorado Matters," which is something like listening to paint dry. While eating chalk. Every now and then, they have an interesting interview, but usually it's something like, "Bill Thompson's family has been selling model railroad supplies in the same location in Ft. Morgan for sixty years now, and today we're going to spend a whole fucking hour talking to him about toy trains."*

A lot of the time, I switch over to the trusty CD player. But sometimes I click over to the FM side of the radio. 97.3 KBCO, a station that was once ecclectic and interesting but now mostly convinced that there's someone out there who still wants to hear the Spin Doctors, Natalie Merchant and Big Head Todd and the Monsters** in the year 2006, does do a fun feature called "10 at 10:00" where the DJ picks a year, anything from the early '70s to the late '90s, and sometimes digs pretty deep into the vaults for 10 cool tunes from the year in question, along with movie and TV clips and old commercials and such. But other than that, KBCO mostly just tells me that one two princes kneel before you, princes, princes who adore you.

Once upon a time, when I was in junior high and high school, there was KTCL, which was a super kick-ass radio station. I heard Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Violent Femmes (who take ALL their equipment on the bus) and probably a dozen other bands and most of the defining songs of my adolescent years on KTCL. Then they got bought by Clear Channel and became a giant mountain of crap.

The best local radio option is KQMT, 99.5, The Mountain, which has a pretty deep and fairly high-quality playlist, plays some of the more obscure stuff from well-known bands of the Days of Yore, and has pretty low-key DJs. Today, they played Stevie Ray Vaughn, followed up by Led Zep (not my favorite, but always fun in limited doses), and then forty-five solid minutes of The Kinks in honor of Ray Davies' birthday, which was fucking awesome...getting into a nice radio groove, here...

Then it all came crashing down as they announced that it was the top of the hour and therefore time to hear from their Featured Artist of the Day, and without any warning, I was listening to the castrated, whiney-ass soft-rock stylings of James Fucking Taylor, one of the all-time paragons of Total Musical Suckitude, the guy who makes John Denver look like a badass.

When the best radio station in a pretty major market follows the Kinks with James Taylor without batting a proverbial eye, I think that explains all there is to know about why no one (but me, I guess) is listening to FM radio anymore.

* I do not mean to impugn the fine hobby of model railroading. I'm the proud owner of my Dad's vintage Lionel train from the late '40s, and one day when I have enough space for it, I mean to set it up. But listening to people spend an hour talking about it on the radio is no one's idea of a good time. And anyone who engages in their model railroad pursuits while wearing an engineer's cap should be sterilized.

** In their defense, BHT&TM are local boys, so there's some residual affection and it's nice to support the local acts, but why not give some play to any of at least a dozen or so cool and up-and-coming bands in the Denver/Boulder area instead of clinging to Colorado's closest thing to a major nationwide hit from ten years ago?

I lurv Netflix

I don't know who the guy is who came up with Netflix, but he deserves to be as rich as he probably is, 'cuz he's a frickin' genius.

I love going to the movies - it's one of the things I enjoy most in life that doesn't involve being naked. Yeah, I hate sitting thru the twenty minutes of commercials as much as the next guy, I want to kill the guy who answers his goddamn cellphone during the movie just as much as anyone else, I hate the noisy morons and their noisy moron children who don't know the difference between watching television at home and being in a movie theater...but I love actually sitting in a big dark theater, watching a moving image projected on a huge screen - I love the trailers, the smell of popcorn, the seat-rumbling subwoofers, the whole nine yards.

But when you come down to it, there's a lot worth seeing but not all that much that's really worth spending $10 apiece for tickets to see. Okay, I know that real cinephiles, the kind of people who make a big deal out of a distinction between a "film" and a "movie," will say that any movie worth watching is worth watching on the big screen. I used to say the same thing. But these days, I don't buy it. I can see why it's worth ponying up the dough to see King Kong, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, the upcoming new Superman flick (which, speaking nerdly, looks fuckin cool as all hell, dude). But I don't think that the big-screen experience could really enhance my viewing of "Good Night and Good Luck" (which arrived in that lovely red envelope recently; good, worth watching, but not as great as a lot of folks said it was) or most movies that don't rely on spectacle and bigger-than-life scale for much of their effect.

And that's what's so great about Netflix. I get to see everything I want to see without having to actually go to the movies, I can add things to the queue and not have to remember what I wanted to see, I never have to go to the video store...and I get to watch good TV without sorting thru bad TV, and without commercials, to boot.

I laughed, I cried...

...but I only cried 'cuz I was laughin' so hard.

Seriously, if THIS VIDEO RIGHT HERE isn't the funniest fuckin thing you've ever seen in your life, I will give you double your money back. That's a bargain at twice the price. not be work-safe.

I've Won Second Prize in a Beauty Contest. Where's my $10?

The Tattered Cover, Denver's venerable institution of a colossal independent bookstore, has been priced out of the market in their old Cherry Creek North location - the rent is just too high for them. So, they're moving to a new location at the end of the month. They held a design contest for the t-shirt that employees and volunteers will wear during the Big Move. I created an entry, not really expecting much, just thinking it was as good a reason as any to draw something.

Someone from the Tattered Cover called me this afternoon to tell me that my entry was chosen as the First Runner-up in a very close decision. It won't be a t-shirt, but they're making it into a poster that the employees and volunteers will sign and then they'll hang it in the new store on Colfax Ave. And I get a $50 T.C. giftcard.

So that's pretty sweet.

Unfortunately, in my haste to turn in my entry (which I got in just before the deadline), I neglected to make any copies - so it'll be a while, but when I can, I'll post my award-winning entry for all to see...

Welcome to our home! Can I get you a drink, or maybe some crack?

We continue to discover the quirks of our new house. F'rinstance...

Our house is the second in from the corner. The houses on either side of us have detached garages (or carriage houses, I suppose), but ours does not. Where the garage ought to be is a gravel parking area. It's pretty much impossible to see from the street, and difficult even to see from the alley. Consequently, our parking area appears to be one of the neighborhood's favored spots for the local crack dealers to ply their trade.

The city is pushing all the crack dealers and hookers off of Colfax Avenue, a block north of us, and has been trying to clean up the spot a few blocks away that has been known as "Crack Corner." So all the crack dealers and their associated crackheads are flocking towards us. There are skeevy characters hanging out on our back stoop at all hours of the day. Of course, sometimes they like to hang out in front, too.

Ah, the joys of urban living...

Part III

So we went to see X-Men: The Last Stand last night. It was okay. It wasnt' terrible, but I didn't leave the theater saying, "Wow, that was so fucking cool!" the way I did with the previous two X-Men movies. That's the difference between your Bryan "The Genius Who Made The Usual Suspects" Singer and your Brett "The Guy Who Made the Rush Hour Movies" Ratner, I suppose.

Of course, the real question is, when has Part III ever been anything but vaguely disappointing at best?
Return of the Jedi? Too many Ewoks.
Back to the Future III? Lame, lame, lame.
The Godfather Part III? So unrelentingly awful, it convinced Sofia Copolla to be a director instead of an actress.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Okay, this one's not bad.
The Karate Kid Part III? As lame as lame can be.
Jaws 3-D? Well, it was in 3-D, so that's pretty sweet...
Superman III? Awful, but it did inspire a gag in Office Space.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock? Falls prey to the dreaded "odd-numbered Star Trek movie" curse
Richard III? Dude, the main character's a hunchback, and there's never been a good movie where the main character was a hunchback.
American Ninja 3? Terrible, but they did manage to bounce back with American Ninja 4.
Rocky III? Okay, this is the exception, because, well, Rocky fights Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, and that fucking rules, dude.

Anyway, final verdict on X-Men III - not as bad as it could have been.

Maybe the best part was the new trailer for Superman Returns, which was cool as hell.