Friday, April 29, 2011

Walking A Fine Line

I knew going into this whole parenting thing that I would be facing some large challenges. I also knew that once each challenge was met and (hopefully) overcome, it would only clear the road for the next new challenge to take its place. This will continue probably for the rest of my life. I'm good with that, I really am. That doesn't mean it isn't still difficult from time to time, however.

For me, as a highly routine-centered control freak (I used to joke that I am borderline OCD, but I don't think I am that bad, and I don't wish to take away from those who actually do suffer the clinical affliction), there is certainly an extra dimension added to addressing the challenges that arise.

My daughter has hit that age where she wants to explore everything around her and is mobile enough to get into most of it (and is smart enough to start figuring out how to get to the things that are just out of her reach). Now, the obvious challenge in this is letting her explore safely. It is a good thing for children to be interested in the world around them, and it builds their problem-solving skills when they try to figure out how to get into that cabinet or find a way to reach what is on the high counters or desk. So there's that. Trying to keep an eye on her while still letting her do her own thing, trying to decide when to help, when to discourage, and when to just let her call the shots--well, I am figuring all of that out too.

But with my need to have everything just so, I am also finding a challenge from myself. For example, Baby Girl loves to pull books and DVDs off of the bookshelves. Sometimes she will empty an entire shelf, stacking them up elsewhere. That I actually find pretty easy to deal with. We have fun putting them back together (she likes to help) and I can put them back in (more or less) the order that they are supposed to be in. Though I will be honest, those books are no longer in anything resembling the correct order. But that is okay, because I am planning to reorganize how the books are shelved soon anyway, and she's not hurting herself or the books...and a large chunk of those are her dad's anyway. But other times she will just rearrange things on the shelves. Pull them down from one, put them back in a different order or on another shelf. She seems to enjoy this immensely. Sometimes I see her doing this and I have a whole inner-monologue fight with myself in order to keep from stopping her fun for no reason other than mommy is a little crazy. Sometimes I don't see her doing this...and that worries me way more than it should. Like I said, I am mostly okay about her Feng shui activities with the books, that's fine. But the DVDs, dear god, the DVDs. That is my personal domain. That is my sanctum of order. Those things have to be where they are supposed to be. My poor insane self can't take knowing that they might be on the shelf out of order.

Yes, I know I am nuts.

So I have to fight with myself not to overreact when I realize that Baby Girl had indeed rearranged my DVDs at some point in the recent past (again). Sure, I could instate a rule that she is not allowed to touch the DVDs without mommy's help, but that would be almost impossible to enforce unless I was willing to follow her from room to room in the house. The only thing being hurt by her exploration is my nerves, and when I weigh the actual (negligible) damage against allowing her to grow, well...I just have to suck it up, don't I?

Lately she has become extremely fascinated with the dishwasher. First she realized she could open and close it, and she got tremendous fun out of that until I started just keeping it locked. But once I did that, she realized that she could turn it on. I think I have finally managed to avoid that issue by taking the knob off of the switch. It seems pretty difficult for her to turn without it, thankfully. But she is vigilant! If my husband or I forget to lock the thing, she is right there, opening it it up, putting things in it--one time it was pretty much the entire (clean) contents of the silverware drawer, yesterday it was her stuffed bear. But this is just a matter of me staying on top of keeping it locked. I can deal with that, and she lets me know if I have failed, obviously, and it is an easy thing to rectify.

Of course, none of that does me any good when I am trying to unload the darn thing. She has realized that this is an opportunity to be seized! She sees me taking things out and she wants to help. This has resulted in a need on my part to revamp the way I unload the dishwasher. We've got it in energy-saver mode which means that I have to hand-dry everything before I can put it away. So I have had to get clever and try to get the heavier and/or breakable objects (like plates) out of the way first so that the kiddo doesn't try to get them on her own. She will. Watching her try to carry around one of our dinner plates makes my panic mode kick in PDQ, let me tell you. It also means checking for knives first thing. I usually wash knives by hand, but sometimes I get lazy, and let me tell you, talk about panic mode, when you see your not-quite-two-year-old reaching for the knife in the silverware tray! Yeesh.

But I want to encourage this tendency of hers to help me pick up and put things away. I really do. I think it is awesome. It just means that I have to fight some battles with my own control-freak self, as well as make adjustments to my routines. I won't lie, my kid is pretty remarkably well behaved. I have no idea how long this is gonna last, but while it does, I count myself remarkably lucky, and I am gonna do whatever I can to encourage it to continue. If that means scrubbing out some of my ingrained tendencies, well, so be it.

It is funny to me. People always tell you that parenthood will change you and your life completely. You do what you can to prepare for this, you try to expect the unexpected. But still, you can never see just exactly which buttons are going to get pushed, and which habits will need to be overhauled. What holds today may be completely unhelpful tomorrow, come to that. It is definitely a roller-coaster ride, and right now, she's the one in the driver seat most of the time. She still lets me take control when I need to (this I also expect not to last), so for now I am just gonna hold on and pray I don't fall off.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Really Am A Girly Girl

So, as you know, I have been playing Dragon Age: Origins through again. (I have finally gotten to new ground and am no longer repeating my first disastrous attempt at a replay, huzzah!) Now, I am playing the "ultimate" edition, which includes (theoretically) all of the DLC and the expansion pack, yada, yada. So when I fire up the game, it has a new start screen to differentiate it from the original version of the game (then, when you click "play" it takes you into the same screens as before).

This screen is really starting to irk me.

Why? Because the art for this screen is freaking awesome. Okay, I see you are still confused. Do you read comic books? If you do, or heck, even if you don't, you probably know that it is common practice for the art of the comic and the cover art to be drawn by two completely different artists, in two completely different styles. Very rarely is the cover of the book indicative of the art that is contained therein. With me so far?

This is pretty similar to the way the box art for video games is designed. I do not know if it is necessarily a different artist (though I would hazard a guess this is the case), but the art on the box is very rarely similar to the actual art of the game. Characters from the game itself are usually recognizable, but they don't actually look like they appear in the game. Like I said, this is standard practice. It is not an unexpected phenomenon.

Now I am not by any means trying to say that the art in the Dragon Age: Origins game itself is in any way bad. It is actually spectacularly gorgeous for the most part. But. The personal details for the characters are a bit lacking. Specifically in wardrobe choices and in hairstyles.

I know, I know, but as the title of this post says, girly girl.

Take, for example, this episode from season three of The Guild.

In the very opening sequence, the character of Codex is talking about the expansion pack for the game played on the show. What is she most excited about? New hairstyles! I had not even heard of Dragon Age when I first saw this episode, but I knew exactly why the prospect of new hairstyles was so enticing! I did have previous experience with crappy selection in video game hairstyles (and wardrobe). From another Bioware game, no less.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic came out in 2003. I first played it through (completely) in 2009. Now, Dragon Age: Origins came out in 2009 (though I didn't play it until 2010). You would think that in the six years between the two games Bioware would have managed to get a little more creative as to the customization of character appearance. But no, not really. Hell, even the hairstyles and outfits in Dragon Age II didn't improve much. Why do you think I was so excited about the Mirror of Transformation DLC? At least I didn't have to be stuck with one terrible hairstyle for the entire game! You know, it's not even that they are that terrible (though some of them really are), it is that they aren't that interesting. I don't even know what makes an "interesting" hairstyle, but Bioware has yet to come up with anything that really appeals to me in that department.

I get that most gamers aren't playing the game so they can mess with hairstyles and clothes. I really do. But. (There's that word again.) I am spending at least 30 hours, usually way more than that, staring at this character. I would like to enjoy how my character looks. Is that too much to ask?

As far as the clothes go, there are lots of different choices, technically, sure. But many of them all look the same along the class of the outfit (i.e. armor, mage robes, etc.), and they are more distinguished by their abilities (adding to your defense, dexterity, resistance, and so on) than by how they look. But...I can't see the badass effects of a new set of armor. I can only see how stupid it looks. I'll be frank. Quite often I have totally eschewed a really cool outfit/armor set because I just couldn't stand how it looked and didn't want to have to watch my character run around in it. I know I can't be the only one who feels this way.

I also refuse to believe that Bioware is unaware of this issue. Mass Effect 2 saw Sheppard issued a standard set of armor and you could go to your quarters and customize its appearance to some extent. When you wanted to upgrade it, the physical appearance of your armor didn't change, you just equipped the new stats for it and that was it. That was, quite frankly, awesome. Then, when you were running around the ship, you had your choice of three or four uniforms you could wear. It wasn't much of a selection, but with the customization of the armor (and I'll admit, I really liked the uniform I chose to wear on the ship), it was more than satisfying enough for me. I had rather hoped Dragon Age II would use the same system. You did get a separate outfit to wear in your house, but you didn't a choice in what it looked like, and the armor system for Hawke was the same as in the first game.

Ostensibly, I am given to understand that there are games out there that let you do a great deal of customization to your character's appearance without sacrificing armor stats. But these are, from what I understand, MMORPGs, and I am saving myself for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I can only hope that Bioware is getting their act together to allow for a little more customization for that, or at least some new/different hairstyles. Geez.

But back to that starting screen art. Here is what it looks like:

This!!! I want this.

You've got a mage with a freaking gorgeous outfit, a decent hairstyle, and a phenomenally cool looking staff (don't even get me started on the lack of options for mage staffs). None of these things are available in the game. Nothing like. So every time I start up the game, I get a glimpse of this super awesome gear that I can't have.

Now compare to the mage outfits you actually do get:

My mage Caitlyn and Wynne--it comes in different colors at least.

Tell me, honestly. Wouldn't you be annoyed?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Not Too Trendy, Please

So apparently in a recent interview Stephanie Meyer said something to the effect that there will be more books written in the Twilight universe some day. Sigh.

Look. I actually really enjoy vampire stories quite a bit. My favorite examples come from shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Moonlight, books like The Dresden Files, and movies like the (first two) Underworld films.

I read the Twilight books, sure. I even kind of enjoyed them. But they went off the rails a bit at the end, and the movie was just laughably awful. I mean, yeah, laughable, so that's not terrible. But let's look at these things for what they truly are folks, okay?

The Twilight books are just really high profile trashy romance novels with a supernatural bent.

That's it. No, I'm not kidding. I suspect that it is even possible (probable) that the quality of writing in trashy romance novels hold up much better under scrutiny than Meyer's famous books. I somehow doubt any of them feature a character with the godawful name of Renesmee. (Seriously, Stephanie? What the hell?) But whatever. Who cares. I am not going to use the fact that they are actually YA to justify the horrible writing (and I don't just mean her style, I mean some of the lessons she is putting out there under the guise of "it's just a story" about how relationships can/do/should work between friends/lovers/families). That fact, if anything, makes the horrible writing aspect worse. But these books, like Harry Potter before them, are responsible for getting a large chunk of the youth population reading--and reading more than just Twilight. I can forgive much of Meyer's issues on that merit alone, truth be told.

But I digress.

I am the last person in the world who would call myself a hipster. I'm not gonna try to claim that I was all into vampires before they became cool and whatnot. That's just silly. And not true. I was into them before Twilight came along, sure, but so were a ton of other people. But it used to be that whenever I heard that a new book/movie/show was about vampires, my interest would be peaked, and I would be at least 85% likely to check it out. Now, I just kind of roll my eyes and groan. We have reached the saturation point in vampire stories. We hit it quite some time ago, actually. For instance, I still haven't seen True Blood. Mostly because I don't have HBO, but you know what, I did have HBO when it started airing. So if I am being honest with myself, it is also because I heard it was about vampires and got a little bit turned off, so never checked it out. (I know, I know, by all accounts I am doing myself a great disservice here, and I am sure one day I might get on board that particular bus, but at the moment, I just can't make myself.)

Then, we moved on to zombies, which I was never really all that enamored with in the first place. Now it seems like everywhere I look, there's something going on with zombies. It seems to me like zombies took off even faster than vampires did. It's like multiple someones said all at the same time, hey, look how vampires caught on after that whole Twilight thing happened! Let's see if we can make zombies the next big thing! And oh my goodness they did. Sigh. I am so over zombies. I have enjoyed one or two of the zombified entries we've gotten out of the craze (*cough*Zombieland*cough*) but mostly, no, I am done. Can we make the next big thing a few smaller big things please?

Just leave the werewolves alone. I would like you to not ruin werewolves for me please, entertainment industry, okay?

You know what would be nice? I would like it if more themes took a lesson from Jack the Ripper.

I know, I know. What?!? Lemme 'splain.

The other day I saw a preview for a new Doctor Who comic story featuring none other than Jack the Ripper, and then the other night when watching Sanctuary (which through some wibbly-wobbly-time-wimey stuff actually features the notorious fiend as a character (no, I won't explain it further than that, watch the show if you are curious, it is awesome-sauce)), I made the connection and it got me thinking. At least one other series I have enjoyed, Babylon 5, has featured an episode about this iconic character from our past. Many others have had episodes or stories that featured this unsolved mystery. There have been plenty of books and movies over the years as well, and lots of speculation on the matter. But though this fascinating (and absolutely horrible, don't get me wrong, this was a bad bad dude, I am not in any way trying to say that the actual serial killer was cool) case has sparked the imagination of many creative people, mentions, tributes, homages, and theories about the Jack the Ripper case have almost always remained quietly in the background. Every now and again something new pops up. But it's never become a huge trend like, say, vampires or zombies.

Certainly, the idea of Jack the Ripper being glorified or turned into something consumers can identify is on par with vampires at least. Think about it, seriously. Maybe what has kept it from breaking out as "the next big thing" is that it is based on something verifiably real, and as such, makes creators uncomfortable playing in that realm? Though if you ask me, that challenge makes it a far more interesting prospect than vampires. But I love historical fiction precisely because it is intriguing to me how someone can take known facts, add a bit of "what if" and take off running to make something entirely new and engaging. I will note that most of the appearances I have seen of Jack the Ripper in my fiction have featured some sort of supernatural or science fictional explanation for his crimes/existence. I don't know if that is because the mystery lends itself more to the genre or if that is just the type of story I am most often exposed to.

My point is that it seems to me that vampires (and zombies) used to be like Jack. They were ever-present, available to the reader/watcher in many different forms and flavors, but never really in the spotlight. This managed to increase the longevity of their appeal and allowed people, for the most part, to discover them without too many preconceptions. These days, too many people hear "vampires" and just roll their eyes and shrug, many of them turning away without even giving the project a second look. There is so much out there that the really good stuff is getting lost in all the crap, and I think that does us all a disservice. I am just once more ready for the day when vampires subside back into their dark corners and shadows,* hanging out with Jack. There when I need them, sometimes when I don't expect them, but never just shoved in the public's collective faces.

A girl can hope, can't she?

*Oh, and yes, I am actually totally stoked about the Johnny Depp Dark Shadows remake. Sometimes there's enough there to overcome the ennui. Sue me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stargate Tuesday: Epilogue

So now that we are nearing the end of the third Stargate series, I think I need to change up my official ranking of the shows. Starting with my most favorite, here is how they now fall:

Stargate Atlantis
Stargate Universe
Stargate SG-1

Now before all of you old-school fans start freaking out and calling sacrilege, I will clarify that, in my opinion, Atlantis totally blows Universe and SG-1 out of the water. It was my first love in this 'verse and I will probably always consider it the best. That being said, the other two are very, very close to each other (and still right up there at the top of all of the other television I watch). But yeah, I have come to realize that I definitely like Universe at least a little bit better than SG-1. This could be because like Atlantis, this is one that I have watched from the beginning, rather than stumbling across it late and then going back to catch up. That is in no way an invalid way of falling in love with a series, but when comparing similar shows, it can make a difference, methinks.

As much as I adore the core cast of the original show, the ensemble cast of Universe has never stopped blowing me away, not since the very first episode. The range of talent here is only a part of the equation. The characters are varied and feel in many ways much more real than O'Neill, Carter, Jackson, or Teal'c ever felt. One of the changes the show runners made with Universe was to make it actually about the characters themselves, and not just the idea of traveling through the stars. I think there are a lot of people who are going to look back and blame the show's downfall on that change. But for me, it was nothing short of magical.

Last night's episode was an absolutely outstanding example of this (and yes, there are spoilers ahead, run away now if you haven't seen the episode). 

Following straight from last week's "Common Descent" we now find the crew of Destiny exploring the city/nation on Novus that is the legacy of their alternate-timeline selves. Due to the seismic activity that sent the already encountered expedition off-world in the first place, the city is now a ghost town. It is sadly devoid of life, but the expedition members and crew hold out hope. They discover a sealed underground bunker complex and get Destiny to blow open the doors from orbit (that was a pretty neat scene, actually) since they can't get in on their own. Sadly, they still find no survivors inside, but they do find the planet's archives--ALL of the records and knowledge that the people of Novus amassed over their two thousand years of existence. This includes all of the Kino footage and many diaries from the original settlers--the alternate versions of the crew.

"Epilogue" is a lovely exercise in "what if," showing us (and the crew) how life could have played out had they been forced to abandon Destiny. Not only did they manage to survive, but they managed to thrive. They built a society that, while not perfect, grew into the millions and made exceptional advances in science and medicine. Yet they still had muzak in their elevators. Awesome. In addition to the vast stores of knowledge, they also discover many supplies in the bunker complex that will serve useful to them in their travels (especially since they are now cut off from using the stargates as supply lines for the foreseeable future due to the drones on their tail). While they work on getting that loaded up, they peruse the database, finding out what happened to their alternate selves and also trying to find out what happened on Novus to bring it to its current state. 

It turns out that a black hole had wandered into their solar system and the resulting gravitational forces had been working to tear Novus apart. The people had enough warning of this to send their people off-world to several other planets via the gate network. Once they gate was destroyed, the two nations (remember, Brody led a group that split off not too long after the founding of Novus that believe Rush would return with the ship to rescue them) got their acts together and joined forces. They pooled their research and built enough space ships to transport the rest of the planet's population to one of their expeditionary worlds. Unfortunately they didn't have time to develop faster-than-light travel, so it would take them about two hundred years to get to their destination, but that's better than remaining behind and watching your civilization (and planet) get completely torn apart by a black hole, amiright? 

Unfortunately, Destiny arrived on Novus about 37 hours before it would become completely uninhabitable. So while they are trying to load up their ship with supplies and figure out a way to copy the archives, the city (and bunker) literally starts to fall apart around them. They manage to make it out just in time, but only get about a third of the archival database. The planet the refugees were headed for is only a ten day travel by FTL, so Young decides to take the survivors of the expedition there and drop them off. They can meet up with the people who went there from Novus through the stargate and prepare them for those that are coming by ship sometime in the next few centuries.

It was actually a pretty straightforward plot, but it was imbued with so many wonderful character moments that this episode shined brightly. The present day antics on Novus were interspersed with Kino footage from the alternate crew, as well as scenes that played out as diary entries were read by our Destiny crew. We got to see all of the different couples pair off, as well as get a few glimpses of how the people in the present reacted to said pairings. Since T.J. ended up back with Young, Varro and James ended up together. This bummed me out a bit, because I have secretly been rooting for James and Eli since season one. I don't know where it came from, but, well, that's my ship I guess. Eli ended up with random consolation prize chick. I thought his reaction to that was pretty spot on. (Okay, okay, she has a name, yes, Corporal Barnes. I am sure she is quite lovely and worthy of our Eli, really. She's certainly never done anything bad on this show that I can remember. But every time I see her, I will always remember her as the random psycho oddly feminist baddie from that weird trapped-in-the-hospital episode of The 4400, sue me.) I was amused at Chloe's quip to Eli about Barnes though. "Something to consider?" Oh dear. Greer and Park do end up together in the alternate timeline of course. I wonder how Volker will feel when he hears their first kid was named after him? Sadly, he was the first death on Novus, since they got booted off Destiny before T.J. had diagnosed his kidney failure, and without access to the ship's medical equipment she wasn't able to save him. Boo.

Speaking of deaths in the alternate timeline, we also learned from the Kino footage and diaries that T.J. has ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), yipes. She first started showing symptoms about five years after settling on Novus and didn't last too much longer than that. Our T.J. was, needless to say, a bit freaked out to learn about this. Then we learn from one of the expedition members that their people actually found a cure for ALS about two hundred years ago and the information is all in the archive. Hurray! Hope! Of course, this is about when things go pear shaped and they have to bug out, and unfortunately the info they downloaded didn't include the cure. Bummer. (If anything, I am glad I am not going to have to watch this plot line play out, because it would completely break my heart to watch what T.J. is going to have to go through because of this knowledge, regardless of the outcome.) Also, as they are making their nick-of-time escape, Varro is extremely very badly wounded. He survives (barely), but is not in good shape at the end of the hour. All in all, not a good episode for poor T.J. 

A few random thoughts:

I love that Brody, father of the "enemy nation" was shown in a bit of Kino footage being the cantankerous "get off my lawn" guy. That almost reduced me to giggles.

Volker's analysis of Rush's taciturn attitude toward the whole descendants-of-the-alternate-crew situation was interesting, and I think pretty accurate. Rush would be rankled to see how the group thrived not only away from Destiny, but also away from him.

I will be curious, when everything is said and done, to find out what kind of plans the show runners had for this story line to play out. I think it is something that could easily be an incredible game changer, but fear that more likely it would have just ended up being an awesome possibility that was picked up and played with briefly before being tossed aside and forgotten. Joe Mallozzi is planning to do a bit of a reveal-all entry (or entries) on his blog once the show wraps up, since the movies have officially been killed. I will definitely be checking it to see what he has to say on this front.

Two more episodes to go, folks. Damn.

See you next week.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Settling Back In

I had a blast with all of my family in town this past week, but man did it wear me out. I actually came down with a bit of a cold at the end of the week, and am finally starting to feel better from that thank goodness.

Like I said, it was a great visit. There were some aspects of it that were made (I felt) unnecessarily complicated, but isn't that how families work most of the time anyway?

Somehow, I came away from this week with a new addiction: Angry Birds

For those not in the know, that's a mobile phone game. There are a couple of different free versions available and I now have them all on my phone. I had been hearing about this game for quite some time, but managed to stay blissfully unexposed until last week. My mother was curious about my husband's iPad and while she was playing with it, she saw the Angry Birds app and asked what it was. I tried to explain but, as I said, I only knew the vague details.

So she fired it up and ended up spending a good two or three hours playing it. After watching her play for a while, I wanted to try and so I went ahead and downloaded it on my iPhone. Mom ended up downloading the game on her phone as well. We spent more time than I care to admit playing the game throughout our visit.

Later on in the week, my dad was trying to distract my seven year old nephew and handed the kid his brand new iPhone, firing up what else but the Angry Birds app. I realized my nephew was playing a different version than the one I had, and that was when I went to my app store and got the other two free versions, one a promotional version for the movie Rio (where instead of trying to take out cheeky piggies you try to free captured birds--I like that one the best I think) and one for different holiday seasons. The holiday one is hard, but the challenge is kind of what makes this game fun. So. Yeah. Totally addicted to Angry Birds now.

Here are a few photo highlights from the visit:

My nephew and sister.

Baby Girl with her cousin. She absolutely adored him.

My nephew, stepdad, mom, me, Hubby, and Baby Girl.

Hubby, me, my nephew, dad, stepmom, and Baby Girl.

Baby Girl befriends a penguin at the zoo.

Baby Girl and my nephew posing (sort of)
with the elephant statue at the zoo.

Yeah, I am pretty sure they are playing Angry Birds there.

In addition to all of the visiting and running around and getting addicted to random mobile games, I was also mildly productive. I did get this done:

Soft Cascades by Cori 2011.

Pattern: Diagonal Box Stitch Afghan by Sandra Petit
Yarn: Bernat Baby Sport Solid in Yellow, Mint (half skein of each), and White (two-thirds a skein), and Bernat Softee Baby in Lemon and Mint (a third skein of each).
Hook: G

I am actually crazy happy with how this baby blanket turned out, even though it definitely has some flaws. The biggest of which is that I ran out of the yellow and green yarn about two-thirds of the way through the project (which is what I get for using remnant yarn) and couldn't find the same yarn to finish, so had to substitute some which was not quite the same. It still looks pretty awesome though. Also, lesson learned.

One more baby blanket to go and then I have a quick amigurumi pattern I want to whip up before I dive into the next round of baby blankets. Then I think I have a wedding blanket to make. Sigh. Why does this happen every year? People I know need to stop having babies and/or getting married. I can't keep up. One of these days I am gonna get to work on that blanket stockpile I keep joking about. For reals.

Well, that's all I've got for you today folks. Have a great one!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Apparently It's The Bomb-Diggity

So Game of Thrones, the television adaptation of the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, premiered on HBO this past weekend. I didn't watch it, of course. I don't have HBO, for one thing, and I am only eight chapters into the first book of the series for another.

Still, good lord, I want to see it. I am having a hard time resisting the urge to just buy the season pass on iTunes, tiny non-television-sized computer monitor be damned.

All of the reviews I have seen (that I haven't been able to read, which is killing me just a little bit) seem to be pretty glowing. People that I actually know who watched it have been raving on Facebook about the awesomeness, and several writers and webcomics creators I follow online have been singing its praises as well. The show did so well that HBO even officially renewed it for a second season. After only one episode had aired. Wow.

Everything points to this being a series that is not only awesome by all measurable standards, but also something that I will really and truly love.

Still. I'll be good and wait. It is hard enough not devouring the first book, rather than just reading two chapters a week along with Leigh Butler, who is doing a read-along on Tor's website. But what I have read I have truly enjoyed, even when I have been appalled by the events unfolding on the page. Especially in these last two chapters. Wow. The people were not kidding when they said that Martin is not kind to his characters. I have only had one chapter from the perspective of a certain character and I am dying to get back to her again, because I am quite concerned for her welfare. I already know that not a lot of good happens to her from the not really spoilery comments I have seen online, but still...

I am not sure I will be able to keep my willpower in check as far as reading the books goes (I have already demonstrated that I have precious little of that particular attribute), but I will wait to watch the series until after I have read all of the first book and probably some of the second. Just to avoid spoilers as much as is humanly possible.

So, even though I haven't yet actually seen this show, I am gonna go ahead and recommend it. If you like fantasy, if you like epic story-telling, if you like War of the Roses type succession battles, if you like gorgeous costume dramas, gorgeous British men, or if you like a damn good story that is well-told, then this is for you. Sunday nights on HBO, tune in. Or, if you don't have have HBO or would just rather read a book, get thee to a bookstore! A Song of Ice and Fire, first novel, A Game of Thrones.

You'll thank me later.

Ginia Bellafante can suck it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stargate Tuesday: Common Descent

Be warned, there are spoilers ahead. For the story and the mood, unfortunately.

So, first things first. Word came down over the weekend, from the mouth of Brad Wright that with the end of Stargate Universe's second season, the Stargate franchise as we know it will officially be dead. All plans for direct to DVD movies across the franchise (the already written scripts for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis as well as a Stargate Universe movie to conclude the story arc) have permanently been shelved. Even the eleventh hour story idea combining all three shows in one movie has been scrapped. Joseph Mallozzi confirmed it in his blog as well.

Bummer doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about this. It sucks, to be quite frank. We have three more episode of Stargate Universe and then that's all she wrote, folks.

Fandemonium has already embarked upon their own attempt to tie up loose ends with the recently begun post-series finale set of Stargate Atlantis books. I can only hope they continue the venture for many years to come, possibly giving us some closure for the Stargate Universe story as well. Perhaps these books will stand to broaden and expand the world of Stargate in much the same way the Star Wars expanded universe books have done. I dearly hope they do so.*

There is always the chance that a few years down the road MGM will license the rights to someone else and we'll get a reboot. That is, after all, what happened from the original motion picture to Stargate SG-1. It might be awesome. It won't be the same though. So farewell to my beloved Stargate. I will miss you more than I can even begin to say. But I will never forget. Don't for one second believe those DVDs sitting in my front room will not continue to be viewed over and over again.

But on to last night's episode.

This Stargate fan will never stop showing
off her love of the franchise.

"Common Descent" hearkened back to earlier in the series when the crew of Destiny attempted to dial Earth from within a star and all sorts of time-traveling complications ensued. The general assumption was that the crew died in the unstable wormhole, but we learned last night that this was not so. Instead, they were sent back in time about two thousand years and, since there was no Destiny at that location two thousand years previous, the wormhole jumped to connect with the nearest gate.

The crew (all except for Rush and Telford) was deposited on a planet they ended up naming Novus. Against all adversity they managed to thrive (eventually splitting into two distinct cultures, which over time rose into two different nations). About thirty years prior to present day, worrying seismic activity on Novus caused the people of at least one of the nations to send out expeditions in search of a new habitable planet.

So, present day. Destiny is plugging along and we learn that a lot of people are suffering from headaches and nausea. Seems like the CO2 scrubbers are running low on lime once more and the air is getting yucky. The ship drops out of hyperspace and there seem to be two planets within range, only one with a gate they can access. They send a kino through and preliminary surveys suggest that they should be able to replenish many of their supplies (as well as lime) there. Eli tells this to Chloe and Wray, and they remark that they hope the team finds some more of a purple fruit they had previously found. Eli remarks that those tasted terrible and they agree and start giggling. They are in the midst of refusing to tell him why they would want more in that case (I suspect that perhaps they were cucumber shaped) when out the window they see quickly approaching lights.

It turns out that the drones from the mid-season premiere have been tracking them across the system somehow and have finally caught up. The ship is able to take out several of the drones but not before the command ship appears and also attacks. Young wonders if the drones tracked them by the drone they have been studying aboard Destiny and orders it to be jettisoned and destroyed. Then he orders them to force a jump into FTL and get the heck out of there, hoping they can lose the drones for good this time.

En route, the ship wants to stop as soon as it gets in range of more planets. The scientists convince Young to let this happen, because they do desperately need more lime at least, not to mention other supplies. Scott and Greer take a team to the planet to scout it out and run into a couple of kids around Scott's age or younger who recognize the pair of them and claim that they are the descendants of the crew.

After the initial WTF moments, there is a lot of exposition learning the history of the colonists and of the original Destiny crew that founded their civilization. The colonists explain that shortly after arriving on the planet they lost contact with Novus and have not been able to make a connection since then. They ask the crew of Destiny to take them back to their planet so they can learn what happened to their civilization.

Young is reluctant to do this (as is Rush), due to the lack of resources available and the strain that many extra people will put on the ship. His hand is forced, however, when the drones show up and launch simultaneous attacks on the planet and on the ship. Most of the colonists are evacuated to the ship, but then a drone takes out the gate, stranding Eli, Wray, Scott, and Greer on the planet, along with the remaining survivors of the attack. It looks pretty certain that the crew is stranded until Eli figures out a way to use the gate's sub-space network connection to send a message to Destiny. He can't figure out how to do more than turn the thing on and off, but Scott realizes this is a perfect way to send a message via morse code. Destiny gets the message and returns to the planet to pick up the survivors, then decides to head on to Novus to check things out, since there's really no way the ship can hold that many people for very long.

Along the way, Rush and Eli figure out that the drones must have been tracking them using the stargates themselves--activation of a stargate is a major sub-space event, apparently, and would stand out like a beacon to anyone looking for it. This means no using gates until team science figures out a way around that problem.

On Novus Scott takes a shuttle down and finds a massive modern looking city, completely intact and completely empty. The atmosphere of the planet is filled with smoke/dust/ash and it is crazy cold. They fear that nuclear winter has set in, meaning the two nations had finally gone to war with each other, but there is no sign of radiation or any electronic signals at all. They deduce that the seismic activity likely caused a super-volcano to erupt, which caused an extinction level event and explains the ash cloud and winter conditions, as well as the lack of any and all life signs.

Next week, the crew investigates the city of their descendants.

This was, once more, a completely awesome episode. There were so many little details that were wonderful touches and made the story work quite well. The two nations the crew split into? One was led by Young and another was led by Brody, who claimed that Rush was still on the ship and would figure out a way to come back and save them all one day. This resulted in one nation that over two thousand years came to believe in Rush as some sort of deity (and was named after a font), and one that saw him as some sort of demon, hell-bent on stealing people's souls. This led for some wonderfully awkward moments when some of the colonists (all from the Team Young country) met the real live Rush. I did find it interesting, and a little odd, that the first baby born on Novus (we got to see the kino footage of it) was the child of T.J. and Young. I guess getting stranded on a planet thousands of years in the past rekindled their relationship? It was a good contrast to now, when T.J. and Varro are just starting to build a relationship, and had a very interesting "road not taken" perspective to add to the episode.

I do have to wonder how Wray had descendants, seeing as how she is not interested in the guys. I guess she decided it was her duty to help perpetuate the species? Hmm. I dunno.  I am still not sure there were enough people on the ship to create a sustained population, but to find out would require research I don't feel like doing.

It was amusing when Greer got all chuffed by the old lady telling him how handsome he is. I love Greer.

I'll be very curious indeed to see how this story plays out/wraps up next week, to be sure.

Sigh, only three more to go folks, and I have a feeling they are just getting started.

As I said, bummer doesn't even begin to describe it.

Until next time.

*Of course, you know that fan fiction isn't going anywhere.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Detour On Memory Lane

Go Frogs!

After I graduated from college I didn't stray too far from my dear alma matter. I live, in fact, about a fifteen minute drive away from the TCU campus. Now, because that little corner of town is pretty much all dedicated to the campus, I don't really go over there unless I have a specific reason to. This means that from about a year after I graduated (when the last of my close friends from school also graduated) until just a few years ago, I rarely saw the campus. Occasionally I would drive through heading to the nearby bars if my husband or another local band I like had a gig. Some of our best friends got married at the university's chapel. I went to a few homecoming games.

But mostly, I would just drive down University on my way from here to there and only catch one little glimpse of the campus. When my daughter was about eight or nine months old, we enrolled her in TCU's music preparatory program, however, which has resulted in my being on campus quite a bit over the last year. Her music class is held in a building right next to the dorm I lived in for two and a half years, and that dorm was actually remodeled while I was still at school. So walking around that little corner of campus is just like strolling down memory lane. It's more or less just as I remember it, as is the bit that you pass when you drive down University. But since my daughter has started doing her music classes, we have, on a few occasions, needed to walk through that other part of campus. The part that has changed completely since my own school days ended.

Yesterday TCU held their annual Easter egg hunt, and we attended for the first time (Baby Girl was just crawling last year so we decided to sit it out). Strolling around campus with my family (myself, Baby Girl, Hubby, my mom and my stepfather) was a little bit of a surreal experience. So much has changed. In many ways it feels nothing like the place where I went to school, and yet...turn a corner and I'm right back there to ten years ago. I have to admit, as cool as the improvements they have made to the campus are, there is something to be said for walking those same paths I used to walk with my husband and daughter beside me. I have no intention of dictating where my daughter goes to college when she gets to that point in her life, but I will confess, a small part of me hopes she chooses TCU. Her daddy and I are both horned frogs, and the idea of keeping the tradition going with her is quite appealing. Still, that's a long way away, so for now, I'll just enjoy the memories being there brings back, along with the new ones we make each time we visit this strange new campus I don't remember.

The Easter egg hunt was a blast, by the way. I think my mom and stepfather had fun and enjoyed getting to see the campus and share in one of Baby Girl's firsts. Having them here has been wonderful.  Here are a few of the highlights for you.

Baby Girl isn't quite too sure about Mrs. Easter Bunny.

Hubby, me, and Baby Girl in front of Frog Fountain.

Baby Girl with her Nana and Papa in front of Frog Fountain.

Hubby, Baby Girl, and an appropriately festive frog statue.

Gathering eggs...

Got another one!

Super Frog, me, and Baby Girl.

Hubby and Baby Girl in line for a balloon animal.

Tuckered out on the way home.

As you can tell from the photos it was, of course, incredibly windy. But a good time was had by all.

I hope you are having a fantastic Monday!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tomorrow! Tomorrow!

Family invasion of awesome begins tomorrow, huzzah! My mom and stepfather will be getting in sometime in the early afternoon. I am really excited about their visit! Before that we have to get up crazy early to do the Fort Worth Zoo Run, and then we are having a birthday breakfast with a friend (since family will still be in town on his actual birthday). Tomorrow's gonna be a bit nuts. But it should be the fun kind of nuts. Guess I am going to bed early tonight...

I don't have too much to say today, I'm kind of distracted finishing up getting ready for company and being excited about seeing my mom again. But I do have a few random bits to send you off to your weekend.

For anyone wondering, I did indeed go get my haircut on Wednesday. I am pretty happy with how it came out. Here are the before and after shots:

Long hair...

...short hair.

This is the cycle I have been on pretty much since my sophomore year of high school. I'll grow it out for a while, get fed up with it, and then cut it short. This is the longest I have let it grow out in quite some time, however. I really did want to try to maintain it at a longer length. But summer is coming and my hair is crazy thick, and after a few warmish days I realized that, ponytail or no, that was just too much hair for a Texas summer. I normally get it cut a little shorter, actually, and then spend several months being irked that I cannot put my hair in a ponytail any more. This time I thought it out beforehand and when I went in I asked the stylist to cut it as short as she could while leaving it long enough for a ponytail, and that is exactly what I got. Problem solved. Excellent.

Oddly enough, this is also the first time in years that I have gotten the appropriate haircut for the season. Usually I leave it long during the summer and warm months (so I can pull it in the aforementioned ponytails), and then by winter I am sick of messing with it and go get it cut off. Should be interesting to see how a short-haired summer goes...well, interesting for me, I mean. I know no one else cares.

In Baby Girl news, I have discovered a new and interesting side effect to letting her have the roam of the house. She has determined that some of the toys that previously lived in her bedroom should live in the living room and vice versa. More specifically, she has decided that all of her stuffed dragons (she has many) should live in the same place.

Dragon party! With special guests Duck, T-Rex, and Turtle.
One of these things is not like the others...

She is quite adamant about this new arrangement. Wednesday night when I tried to put some of the dragons back in her bedroom during pre-bedtime cleanup, she threw a holy fit. Freaked the cat right out. He had to come sit in the bathroom on the counter during her bath where he could keep an eye on her the whole time and ensure that I was not, in fact, murdering her. Sigh. Last night went much better. I tried to sneak some of the dragons back into her bedroom, but she found them while we were still picking up and moved them back to the toy chest in the living room. I decided I could live with this new arrangement and let it be. Much happier bath time!

She also likes to carry all of the dragons around and arrange them in various spots in the house now. I was joking the other day that she was "holding court" because she had arranged all of them in a semicircle around her and was just sitting there gabbing at them. Last night, when I was trying to be sneaky about putting them away, I found she had put them all in a line in front of the front door. Dragons are indeed fierce guards, didn't ya know?

Then there was this:

Gotta keep an eye on the fridge! Except for that guy on
the end, he's apparently watching the dishwasher.

I have no idea what the duck is doing...

Anyway, you guys have a fantastic weekend! I certainly plan to.

Don't forget to check out the new Gronk! Join Gronk and Kitty for one more fantastic voyage!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

With The Good Inevitably Comes The Bad

I know I have mentioned that I have been fighting the urge to replay Dragon Age II a few times in the past week or so. The reason I have been fighting that urge is because I have a huge freaking stack of video games I feel like I should be playing. For instance, I have been playing Epic Mickey and making some decent progress with it. But then I kind of stalled out, and kept finding excuses to avoid playing, all the while hearing the siren song of Dragon Age... I tried forcing myself to play Epic Mickey but that just made it no fun. I remembered that the reason I play video games is to have fun, and there is no one but myself dictating what I play or when. So I decided to compromise a little and instead of firing up a new game of Dragon Age II decided I would finish out my replay of Dragon Age: Origins first and then replay the sequel with my character import from that game.

Quite pleased with my proposed solution, I opened up Dragon Age: Origins on Monday afternoon, hit the "resume" button an error message. What the heck? The message stated that the saved game I wanted to continue contained "premium content" (well, duh, it is the ultimate edition of the game, which includes all of the released downloadable content for the game), and that in order to keep playing the owner of the premium content needed to log in to the EA account linked to said content. Okay. Checked the little bottom corner of the screen and it showed that I was indeed logged in to my EA account. Hmm. Logged out and then back in again, but no go, the game is still telling me to log in. I pulled up my EA account and checked and it still showed I had the game registered. I looked at the "downloadable content" section of the game and it is showing all of my DLC is unauthorized. Again. Sigh.

See, here's what happened. After releasing the last bit of DLC for Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware and/or EA decided to release an ultimate edition that included Dragon Age: Origins, the expansion pack Dragon Age: Origins Awakening, and all of the DLC. We ended up buying that ultimate edition from Steam when it was on sale (even though we already had the game and its expansion pack) because it was actually cheaper than buying all of the DLC separately, and I wanted all of the DLC (and my husband is awesome). Regardless of what platform you buy the ultimate edition of the game for (computer or console) and how you buy it (disc or digital download), the ultimate edition game itself does actually include all of the extra content. When you install the game, you install this content. In order to be able to actually play anything considered "premium" content, however, you still have to then go to EA and register the game with your EA account (you have to create one if you don't already have one, in fact). Then you redeem the code for the "extra" content on the website. After you've done that you have to open up the game and log in to your EA account from the game itself at least once to authorize your premium content. Only then can you finally play that content.

Now, I get why EA did it this way. This is not actually that unusual. They are trying to avoid piracy of their game and of the extra content. I don't think for one second that this attempt to avoid piracy was at all successful, but I get what they were trying to do. The problem is that in doing so, they made playing content one had legally purchased a huge pain in the butt from the get-go. This was compounded by an issue with the Steam version of the game, which, when downloaded, had a timing issue that caused the DLC content not to automatically be authorized when the game is registered. You may remember when I originally got the ultimate edition I griped about the problems I had accessing the stand-alone DLC quests that I wanted to play. A few internet searches and a frustrating afternoon spent on the internet eventually led me to the Bioware forums and I was able to find the reason for my problem as well as a relatively quick and simple fix, and was then able to get on with playing the game, yay!

So imagine my chagrin when I went to resume the game and found that, once more, my DLC had become unauthorized and I couldn't even continue my saved game until I fixed the issue! Clearly it was no longer just a problem with the install. Yet another frustrating afternoon spent searching the internet on Monday led me to discover that after the initial debacle with the Steam version of the game, the bug somehow spread to all PC versions of the game. What is going on here, folks??? Well, it seems that EA was experiencing a problem with their server, at least since last November/December. This problem causes the DLC content (content which is included in this version of the game and shouldn't actually involve any extra steps except maybe perhaps just registering the game) to periodically (and repeatedly) become unauthorized for users who log in to their EA accounts every time they open the game. This is, by the way, the recommended course of action, because it allows you to keep track of your game stats and achievements on your EA site and to compare your different playthroughs, share them with other players, archive your screenshots, etc. There is a little button you can click when you first sign in to your EA account from the game that says "always sign in," and I of course had that clicked. Which means when I went to resume my game, it logged me in to the EA servers, and the EA servers felt it would be a good time to unauthorize all of my DLC. Just for fun, you know.

I tried several steps recommended by the Bioware forums and in other parts of the internet, and eventually did find a solution. This solution involved me editing the actual code of the game. Um. No. That should not be the required solution to make a game just work like it should. I am sorry, that is just wrong. Bleah. There is actually a patch for the game that fixes all of these bugs, apparently, but after I downloaded it and went to run the file, a little pop-up window informed me that this patch was for disc versions of the game only, not for downloaded versions. Sigh. Whatever. I did get it fixed, and finally, finally, I could resume play, yay!

So I resumed my game and imagine my surprise (yet again) when I am looking at the screen and find my character in nothing but her undies, no weapons or clothes. What? Hey, so, I fixed the glitch that caused my DLC to be unauthorized, but a secondary, related glitch had now kicked in. This new glitch causes all of the items you gained from playing the DLC to simply vanish from your inventory (and bodies). At that point, I was willing to forgo a few cool weapons and armor so I could just get on with the game. I found more clothes in my inventory and dressed and armed my character and plowed on. Of course, I was in the Fade when all of this happened, so when I got to Alistair's nightmare to find he had also lost his items, he wasn't technically in my party at that time, meaning I couldn't affect his items. So I had to go through that whole conversation with him in his undies...

Naked Alistair is naked.

It would have been a lot more funny if there hadn't have been so much frustration behind it. So I played a little bit Monday night and quite a bit on Tuesday, and I finished up the Circle of Magi quest and headed back to camp. And found Levi, the guy who I had helped secure Wardens' Keep in one of my DLC quests already completed, still hanging about in camp, even though he should have been back at the keep setting up his new business. Uh oh. Not a good sign. I opened up my journal and it still showed all of the DLC stuff I had played in my completed quests. Okay, that was promising. Then, I opened up the world map, and none of the places I had visited (some of which should still be accessible, all of which should at least be present) and none of them were on the map. None of them. Only DLC location was the one I hadn't played yet.

Grumbling because I had hoped/planned to go back to Wardens' Keep at least at some point, I went to Sulcher's Pass to go ahead and play that DLC through at least. The guy told me to complete the quest I would need to go to a specific place further south and he would mark it on my map. This is a quest that would get me a new companion character I hadn't gotten to play before, so I eagerly opened up my map wasn't there. That glitch that makes all of the DLC items go away? Also makes the DLC related places disappear off the map as well, making them inaccessible. Damn it all to hell.

Some quick research showed me that by continuing to play after the first encounter with the glitch (i.e. naked people), I had killed my already slim chances of recovering the DLC within the game. Unless I was willing to do some more code tweaking, that is. I read the instructions for said tweaking and dude, beyond me.

So. This game is borked. One of the reasons I wanted to do the second playthrough was to get to play all of the in-game DLC. I was only twenty hours in (it's about a hundred hour game). I went ahead and made the executive decision yesterday to just start a new new game. My DLC is authorized and I am not logging back into EA until I finish this playthrough.  Hopefully this will prevent those pesky glitches from thwarting me again. I somehow doubt that at this stage EA is really worried about fixing the glitches with the first Dragon Age game, which is a shame.

Wait, wait, wait, you want me to do what now?

Part of me wants to say that this really isn't worth all of the hassle. Part of me doesn't want to give EA the satisfaction of continuing to play their broken game. But the other part of just really wants to play Dragon Age. What can you do? I decided to start my third character with the same background as number two, though I did tweak her appearance a bit again (I do love playing with the appearance generator). Also, on the plus side, in game two I had already managed to accidentally hook up with Alistair, when I had really intended to pursue another relationship. So now I have a chance to not break his heart, yay! A personal challenge to me will be winning him over as a friend without getting romantic. I don't even know if that's possible, but I'm sure gonna try to find out!

So...yeah. I'm playing Dragon Age again. I know you're shocked and surprised. I just wish such an awesome game didn't come with such ridiculous baggage.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What Do Dragon Age and The Wheel of Time Have In Common?

I just read this kind of thought-provoking article by Richard Fife over on Tor's website and my mind wandered over to Dragon Age. Granted, this is not an uncommon occurrence. Many things make my mind wander over to Dragon Age. It is a game that tends to linger in the consciousness, especially when you are actually playing it.

Anyhoo, Fife's article (which you should totally go read, it is well worth it) was just a brief commentary on one of the cultures in Robert Jordan's series The Wheel of Time. Fife believes that the Seanchan culture is a dystopian one, and I have to say, I rather agree with the points he makes. I have often been irked, in fact, by the realization that the Seanchan actually have it pretty well put together except for the whole slavery and oppression of magic wielders they have going on. What the article suggests to me is that in a true dystopia, the majority of the population doesn't realize that it is in a dystopia. The regime is so completely successfully oppressive precisely because the people have willingly sacrificed their freedoms or don't realize that they have done so. All except for that select group that is the example group--the ones who are publicly put down so that the general mass knows what will happen if they do try to resist. In the case of the Seanchan, that example group is users of magic (it is actually a very specific subset of that group of people, but the Seanchan themselves don't realize the flaw in their system quite yet).

The basic history of the Seanchan is that three thousand years ago, the world was "broken" by the Aes Sedai (the users of magic). It was a huge global cataclysm. In the part of the world that became Seanchan, the Aes Sedai that survived the breaking spent the next two thousand years warring with each other. Then along came the army of Artur Hawkwing and they kind of took over everything. To protect themselves from the power of the Aes Sedai, they enslaved all of them, and over the next thousand years built an empire with the magic wielders as their servants. They did this because they were scared of what the Aes Sedai would do to them, to each other, and to the world if left unchecked. Because they were scared of that power, they found a way to control it, and to keep it from ever getting the upper hand again.

It is this history, which I had truly never really thought on very much while reading the series (there is a lot going on there, some aspects of it tend to slip through the cracks from time to time), which my mind connected to my current video game obsession.

In the world of Dragon Age, mages are widely feared by the general populace. Once upon a time, long before the games take place, the world was ruled by mages, but eventually the ungifted folk rose up and threw down their oppressors. In the era in which the games occur, mages are locked up in a Circle, which is guarded by the Templars (the army of the Chantry, the religious power in this world). The Templars have special magic-negating abilities and are thus able to keep the mages in check. While the mages are somewhat autonomous within each Circle, they are kept inside those Circles, and they are mostly kept apart from the general population. Mages who practice magic and do not submit to the Chantry rule are called apostates and are hunted down and brought back to the Circle or executed.

All of this is largely in the background in Dragon Age: Origins, but in Dragon Age II the primary conflict of the story is that between the Circle of Magi and the Templars in the city-state of Kirkwall. One of your companions is an apostate mage who is fighting not only to stay free of Chantry rule, but to see all mages with the same freedoms. To balance him out, you also have in your party a warrior who was once a slave in the Tevinter Imperium--a far off land where the mages not only still rule, but have also all given in to the use of blood magic, which is the cardinal sin a mage can commit in the eyes of the Chantry. It makes for a very interesting dichotomy. While I am not sure how well the story was carried out, or what the actual message the writers were trying to get across was in game two, the basic idea is a strong one.

In a fantasy setting with magic involved, there is always a fine line to walk. Either limitations must be put on the system of magic itself to prevent its wielders from being all-powerful, or societal rules come into play, with the users of magic either being the ruling class or the enslaved class. As a fan of fantasy, I think this might be one of my favorite aspects these days--seeing how the particular story deals with magic and keeping the scales balanced between those who have it and those who don't.

At any rate, when I play Dragon Age now, I have a feeling I will be looking at Thedas as what could be in a post-series Wheel of Time world where there was a new breaking and the Seanchan succeeded in enslaving the Aes Sedai on Rand's side of the ocean...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stargate Tuesday: The Hunt (2.16)

Here there be spoilers folks. Run away if ye be shy, or if, you know, you haven't seen the episode yet.

Right, so, to business. Executive Producer and show writer Joseph Mallozzi promised that there would be a lot going on in this episode (one of his), and man, did he deliver!

This week started out with a group of our intrepid crew out and about on a planet. Some of the scientists are running tests on the local flora, checking it out to see if it can be of any use aboard Destiny. You know T.J. wants to stock up on whatever medicinal herbs they can find, the way people keep getting shot up on this ship. Meanwhile, the soldiers, primarily Scott, Greer, and James, are excited about some deer-like beings that have also been discovered on the planet and want to do a little hunting so that they can finally have some fresh meat to chow down on. As James points out to Park when she gripes that she is a vegetarian and wouldn't eat the meat regardless, they have actually all been vegetarians for the last several months or so.

When Scott and Greer find a likely target, Greer lines up his shot and...hesitates. Before he can recover and bag the game, the deer are startled by a noise from deeper within the forest and run off. Greer has just enough time to start to get pissed about this when whatever it was that startled the deer then charges out and barrels through both him and Scott, making its way through the camp and injuring several of the scientists. We also learn, in the wake of its attack, that T.J. and a corporal are missing. Oh dear.

Here is where the story starts to split up. We've got Young, Greer, and James on the planet hunting for the missing crew members. A banged up Park is stuck in the infirmary, being tended to by Chloe, Destiny's jack-of-all-trades, since T.J. is well, you know, missing. We quickly learn that T.J. and the corporal are alive, if a bit banged up, and stuck in the cave serving as the beast's lair, which is inconveniently located halfway up a mountain overlooking a ravine and being determinedly protected by said beast. Then of course, there's the actual B-plot proper, in which Brody, Eli, and Rush open up a newly repaired section of the ship and discover several chambers filled with stasis pods (empty). Eli wants to check out this new discovery, but Rush wants to exercise caution and advises they do some research up on the bridge first.

Varro, the handsome good-hearted Lucian Alliance member with a crush on T.J. convinces Scott to let him go down the planet and help out with the search party, as he and his people have extensive hunting and tracking experience. Varro and a random leather-clad LA chick take the lead and they quickly realize that the beast they are hunting has, in return, been hunting them. Oh goody. They fall into an ambush and Young is badly injured and sent back to the ship. They keep tracking the beast and finally do manage to take it out with an ambush of their own--only to discover that there is more than one of the creatures out there. Double goody. Eventually we are left with just Greer and Varro together. Varro decides this is a good time to talk Greer through his issues (i.e., his hesitation of earlier, he also got a heart-to-heart with James a bit before this in which we learned that he thinks he died momentarily while undergoing the kidney transplant surgery and has kind of become afraid of death). It...kind of works? Greer seems to be back to himself by the end of the episode at any rate.

While all of this has been going on, T.J. has not been sitting around being an idle damsel in distress. Oh no, the corporal decides to fill that role, so T.J. gets to be the hardass "we're gonna get through this" soldier. It's kind of awesome. So much of her character development has been about her emotional moments or about her medical skills, it is easy to forget that T.J. actually is a soldier, and a pretty accomplished one at that. She gets the corporal to stop feeling sorry for himself and also manages to repair their damaged radio and make contact with Greer to let him know where they are. When Greer does manage to find the lair (Varro has been causing a distraction to lure the beasts away), one of the beasts has just returned and T.J. is the one to realize that it is sentient. The beast hesitates when it sees that she has made a fire, recognizing intelligence in the humans. It holds off on its attack when they indicate that they do not mean it any harm and T.J., the corporal, and Greer are allowed to skedaddle, meeting up with Varro on the way back to the gate. They stop briefly when they run into one of the deer-like animals and Greer decides they need to take something home for all of their troubles. Yay! Meat for everyone! Well, except Park, apparently.

Afterward, back on the Destiny, T.J. goes to visit Varro and apologize to him for the loss of his people. He is the only Lucian Alliance member left standing from the original invasion force at this point. This and the fact that he has been nothing but cooperative and helped retrieve T.J. has finally earned him the freedom of the ship from Young. T.J. also tells Varro that even though she knows he may feel like he's all alone now, he really isn't. They share a nice poignant almost-kiss before they are interrupted by a knock at the door (grr, argh), of course. And (of course) it is Young at the door. He seems to grasp something of the situation at hand and there is a momentary look on his face that is regret for how things have played out. But it also seems to be a look of letting go. I will be very interested to see how that progresses in the remaining episodes. Also, huzzah for there finally being progression on the T.J./Varro front!!!

In the B-plot, Eli is still pissy about Rush and has decided to express this by rebuking Rush's self-nominated authority among the science crew. He's kind of acting like a brat. I kind of don't blame him. Still. I hope that his attitude gets a little bit of an adjustment before the end of the season (series). Anyway, Eli decides that he doesn't care what Rush says, he wants to check out the stasis pod chambers, and he manages to talk Brody into going with him. Up in the bridge, Rush realizes what Eli is up to and activates one of the stasis pods, with Brody inside of it. Eli spends the rest of the episode freaking out and trying to unfreeze Brody without telling Rush what happened (he thinks he or Brody pushed the wrong button whilst exploring). Eli even tries to get Chloe to help, using some of her remaining "alien knowledge," but all to no avail. Eventually Rush decides enough is enough and unfreezes Brody, hoping the two have learned their lesson. Eli and Brody think they've gotten away with their adventure, and when Rush suggests checking out the new area, they both jump to suggest that no, maybe they should wait until the database has been further investigated. Rush smiles a self-satisfied smirk and wanders off, still believing himself to the be the supreme being aboard Destiny. Sigh.

That whole subplot was kind of meh, to be honest. Don't get me wrong, I am really glad to see Eli bucking Rush's self-proclaimed authority over the science staff. It needs to be done. Rush rarely ever makes decisions that are truly for the good of the whole, unless they happen to align with whatever his own agenda is. He does not need to be the scientist in charge. Neither does Eli, though thankfully he does seem to realize as much. I just hope he can bring about the more communal running of the scientific duties on the ship by acting more, you know, mature. Not by being an idiot and running off almost getting people killed (or at least made completely unavailable). Also, his little stunt only served to confirm to Rush that he knows better than anyone else, which in the end means he did more harm than good in my opinion.

In one last little subplot, Volker seems to be recovering well from his kidney transplant. He is up and about now. He spent most of this episode running back and forth between working with Rush and checking on Park in the infirmary. Two episodes ago it seemed like the writers were hinting at a little bit of a growing romance there, and I have to admit, it made me a bit nervous. You guys know I am rooting for Park/Greer all the way. But still, Volker's clear crush and awkward attempts at being there for Park were very well done. As were the even more awkward conversations with Chloe and Rush about his feelings, which he kept trying to convince everyone (and failing fantastically) were strictly platonic. At the end he takes a little bouquet of something (presumably from the hydroponics lab) to visit Park, only to find that Greer is already there and the two are looking rather cozy. Poor Volker. The look on his face was absolutely heartbreaking. As much as I didn't like the thought of him coming between Park and Greer, it made me very sad for him nonetheless. I will be very curious to see how this little triangle progresses, especially with the debt Volker must feel toward Greer due to the whole kidney situation.

All in all I think this was a fantastic episode. There was a ton of extremely well done character development, and the main story, even with all of its little fractals, was very engaging. I feel like I am saying this every week, but dang, I am so mad that we are almost out of episodes for this show! Stargate Universe has really found its legs this season and it is just such a shame that we are not gonna get to see it run for any more seasons. Boo.

The preview for next week's episode was pretty tantalizing. Wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey! Huzzah!

Until then, I think I am gonna go have to read some Stargate novels to keep the withdrawal at bay...

(...or maybe play some Dragon Age.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Begin the Countdown...

Less than a week to go now. Through some weird quirk of fate, most of my immediate family has decided to come visit me this month. My mom and stepfather arrive this coming Saturday and will stay through Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, Tuesday afternoon, my father, stepmother, sister, and nephew will also journey here. They'll stay through Friday. I am looking forward to this very very much.

Most of the time I am fine with the fact that my family all lives so far away (they are coming here to Texas from Iowa, East Tennessee, and San Francisco). I have always had a bit of an independent streak. You all know I am predisposed to be a hermit. Besides, my mom's family is largely military, so I grew up with a spread out family being the status quo. In these modern times we have free long-distance phone calls and the internet available for keeping in touch. My mother and I have also been discussing the possibility of investing in webcameras so we can do video-calling. But none of that compares to actually getting to see my family in person, getting to laugh with my sister and enjoy the fact that we actually get along now, getting to bond with my mom over yarn-crafting, with my dad over being something of a road warrior, etc.

So I will be spending this week preparing, mentally and physically, for everyone to descend upon us. Mostly this means getting the house presentable for company, stocking up the fridge and pantry, and talking my husband into trying to maintain a somewhat normal human schedule during that week (he's gonna do his best, bless him).  My super awesome mother-in-law is coming over on Wednesday so I can get my dang hair cut, because I have decided that it Must Be Done, and I will be antsy until that is taken care of. That's not really preparation for the visit, but it kind of is. I guess I am trying to get myself presentable for company as well.

All the while I will be fighting the ridiculously strong urge to start up a second game of Dragon Age II. It's been nagging at me for the last week or two and I have thus far been fighting it, but I can feel my resolve weakening.

It's going to be an interesting week...