Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Desk Just Got A Little Bit More Awesome

Some time last frickin' year I found out that two series of collector figures had been announced for the video game Mass Effect 2. The second series, set to come out sometime around December I think, I can't even remember now, was going to feature everyone's favorite Turian, Garrus Vakarian. Garrus!!!

That'd be Garrus there on the left.

You may recall that Garrus was the NPC I romanced in my playthrough of the game. Because he is awesome. Also, because as it turns out, that romance was hilarious. So, naturally you can imagine my delight to learn I could soon have my very own action figure to play with adorn my desk. You can bet I preordered that sucker right away. I also preordered the Krogan companion from the second game, Grunt, which was to be released as part of the first action figure series. That group was supposed to come out sometime around August or September I believe.

Then things got hinky. I don't know if the hold up was on DC Unlimited's end or on Bioware's, but release of Grunt and Garrus got pushed back to January and May of this year, respectively. January came and went with no sign of my Grunt action figure and at some point I received a notification that my Garrus order had been canceled because that item was no longer going to be available. Grr. Contacting the seller from which I had ordered Grunt, I learned that it was still scheduled to be released but there was no telling when exactly. I ended up canceling that order, because, well, like I said, things were hinky.

But some time in the last few months, DC Unlimited finally released the first series of Mass Effect 2 figures. My husband is playing through the game at the moment, and it has been getting me excited about Mass Effect all over again. So I finally caved in and went ahead and ordered my Grunt from Amazon last week.

He came yesterday.

He is AWESOME.

Here he is, in all of his packaged glory.

Behold Grunt! Mighty Krogan warrior. Don't piss him off.

No, seriously, don't piss him off, the safety
is most definitely not on.

So now I have a new guardian for my mishmash of a desk. He goes nicely with the random assorted Lego sets (an Indiana Jones minifig courtesy of my nephew and Darth Vader on a T.I.E. fighter), several Wall-E toys, an R2-D2, and a plastic stegosaurus.

I mean, Wrex, the Krogan from the first game, was pretty awesome. But he had nothing on his younger counterpart who, as the back of the packaging says, lacks the bitterness of other members of his species.

Speaking of the packaging. That was kind of amusing in a WTF sort of way all on its own.


I know it is hard to make out, but those little blurbs in the middle are descriptions of each character available in the first series. The descriptions for Thane and Grunt are hard to argue with, but the one for Tali starts off, "Petite, almost perky...." as if that has anything to do whatsoever with her character. Well, maybe the perky thing, but, I don't think that actually applies to Tali. I guess if we're judging by the standards of other Quarians? Also, don't get me started on the fact that they released a figure for the stock male Shepard only. I guess the vast majority of people who play these games don't bother to mess with the character creator and are therefore satisfied with a figure of the most boring version of Shepard possible. Whatever. (I also assume that this confirms Canon!Shepard as male. Also boring.)

Also, you can just barely see it in the photo, but at the bottom right corner is an add for the 2011 Mass Effect 2 calendar, due out "this September," presumably indicating that all of the packaging for this series was printed up well before September 2010, and yet, the figures weren't released until when? I don't get the comic book industry folks. I really don't. If the rest of the world (even the creative parts--think television productions) ran on the kind of schedule the comics industry did...man, we would be screwed.

Sadly, it appears that the second series of figures has been permanently canceled, which is a complete bummer. But I'll satisfy myself hanging out with Grunt and keep my fingers crossed that maybe someone can be more on the ball when Mass Effect 3 comes out, and that maybe, just maybe, I can still get my Garrus after all...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Educational AND Fun

I have been playing Portal 2 since I got back from my trip and it is a hoot. In the first round it was just you, the sadistic AI GLaDOS, the turrets (friendly guardian robots that will shoot you as soon as they notice you), and the occasional companion cube. You have to make your way through a series of "testing" chambers armed only with a portal gun and your wits. Business as usual at Aperture Science.

In the sequel a new dimension has been added. As the game starts out you learn that something has gone horribly wrong at Aperture Science. As you make your way through more test chambers seeking an exit, you make a new friend, bumbling but affable AI Wheatley. He does his best to help you thwart GLaDOS and get the heck out. Unfortunately, you find yourself in an old abandoned early Aperture testing facility and must make your way up from there to be able to get back to the more modern facility and (presumably) the exit. I just made it back to the modern facility last night.

This time around, in addition to your portal gun and companion cubes, you also have various types of gel available to aid you. It was once upon a time being pumped through the facility and is now pretty much leaking all over the place. The different types have names but I can't remember any of them, I just know them by color. Blue makes you bounce, orange makes you go fast, and white turns any surface into one you can use for portals. Those portals used in conjunction with the various gels are how you make your way through the different chambers.

Basically this entire game is an exercise in problem solving and creative thinking. It is utterly delightful, even when it is frustrating beyond measure. Sometimes the way out of a room just requires you to examine your surroundings carefully. Sometimes it requires you to play with physics. Often it requires both.

In addition to the wonderful mental challenge, the game is just vastly entertaining. For one thing there has been an amazing amount of attention paid to the details. Every room is a little bit different from the last. The signs adorning all of the walls you pass in your trek are informative and amusing. They help to paint a picture of what went down as well as giving you all of the information you need in order to move on to the next chamber. Often something you pass in one little corner of the facility serves as foreshadowing for what you will encounter two, three, even ten chambers down the road.

Then there is the dialog.

Wow.

Now, let's get this straight. This is a solitary game (there is a co-op mode, but I cannot speak to it as I haven't played that aspect, and I understand it is a very different, though no less entertaining experience, but I am speaking of the single-player mode here). Even when you've got help from, say, Wheatley, you still pretty much have to do (and figure out how to do) everything on your own. Your avatar has no voice, no conversations. But GLaDOS and Wheatley both talk at you quite a bit, each in a staggeringly different tone, both roll on the floor hilarious. There are "encouraging" recorded announcements as you go through the testing chambers. In the modern part of the facility it is a friendly robotic Mr. Moviefone kind of voice. In the older section? It's J.K. Simmons as an over the top less than scrupulous business man. His lines are a thing of beauty my friends. A thing of beauty.

Portal 2, like its predecessor, is funny and smart and fun. My husband has already played it through twice. It is actually a pretty short game (maybe ten or twelve hours of play time, maybe less), which is fantastic, because that means you can play it over and over again if you want without getting the feeling you are just slogging through. When the game isn't moving along, it is because you, the player, are stuck, and therefore simply not paying close enough attention to your surroundings. Every "aha!" moment when you finally get unstuck brings with it the same feeling of triumph as bringing down one of the baddest bosses in any more traditional video game.

I think, no, I know, that once Baby Girl gets old enough to play PC games, this series is going to be the first one we fire up for her. She likes figuring things out, so it will be the perfect starter.

I can't wait to find out what the endgame holds in store for me. If it is anything comparable to the first game, then I have much to look forward to.

If you like puzzle-solving and snarky AI's, and have any interest in gaming, I cannot recommend Portal and Portal 2 enough. They are well worth anyone's time, I promise.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New TV Scorecard: Falling Skies

I would pick the week all of the summer shows premiere to go out of town, wouldn't I? Then I came back into town and actually started doing stuff, rather than just sit around and watch television all day. What is this world coming to? Anyway, the DVR backlog that has resulted as of this sudden burst of strange behavior means that I just got around to watching the pilot (and also second episode) of Falling Skies last night.

Wow.

First The Closer, then Leverage, not to mention a few other incredible shows...TNT is really raising the bar for quality television. NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC take note guys, this is how you do television. TNT has got the formula down. They hire incredibly talented actors, one or two who are fairly well known or just familiar faces (in the case of Falling Skies we've got Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood, and Colin Cunningham) leading a pack of other incredibly talented actors who are maybe less known but who all work together seamlessly. They keep the seasons short, allowing for tighter storytelling, and they hire competent writers capable of telling a damn good story.

Falling Skies is the kind of show that I think will have broad appeal despite its science fiction trappings, because it is just amazing storytelling. The scifi angle isn't the story, it is just one aspect of it. This is how good scifi is in its natural environment, of course, it's just that most non-fans don't know or believe this because there is such a glut of pure crap out there dressed up in a thin scifi shell.

The show is set in Massachusetts about six months after an alien force arrived on Earth and wiped out 90% of the human population. The intentions of the aliens are not yet known, at least not to the viewer. What is known is that they kill any adults they find and capture any kids. The kids are turned into some sort of slave labor using a parasitic "harness" attached to the spine. The aliens don't seem particularly interested in hunting humans down. They've parked themselves in all of the major cities and built strange ginormous structures that loom over the skyline. They do send out patrol ships over the countryside, but again, they don't seem to be hunting, just taking out what they see and keeping the pesky indigenous species in check.

Flick Filosopher compared Falling Skies to the recent remake of V and to The Walking Dead, stating that it is everything she had hoped those two shows would be and that they failed at utterly. To me it evokes more memories of Jericho, which was another fantastic piece of television, even though it went a little bit off of the rails with the conspiracy theories in the end. Falling Skies has no hint of conspiracy theories so far (thankfully). While, like Jericho, it does pit the occasional group of surviving humans against each other, those conflicts are almost incidental.

Falling Skies is about people. These people are trying to recover some of what they have lost, a sense of security, home, and normalcy. There is resistance to the aliens, yes, it is small but growing. The dynamic between the civilians and the military seems to be headed toward a rocky clash, it seems to be doing so in a natural way, and not in one that will spell out disaster for everyone because the writers decide to beat someone over the head with the stupid stick. But I will be interested in seeing how the "civilians are slowing us down" and the "civilians give us something to fight for" mentalities resolve their inevitable conflict.

My history major self isn't too upset that the main character was a history professor either.

In case you couldn't tell, I absolutely loved this show. I am really looking forward to following these characters and watching their story unfold. The pilot and second episode did an excellent job setting up the primary characters and making me actually care about them. Did we get their life stories? No. Did we get enough that we feel for them and hope they will survive and overcome adversity? Heck yeah. My fingers are crossed that the show continues to build momentum as it has done, answering a few questions here and there but leaving enough suspense to keep things interesting.

If things keep going like they are going, this looks to be an amazing series. Thank you TNT, please, keep it up.

First Impression Rating: 11/10 (No, seriously. It was that good. Also, it gets a bonus point for creative use of Colin Cunningham. He will never just be Major Davis again.)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Can't Stop The Signal

Yesterday was the sixth annual Can't Stop The Serenity event in DFW. For those unfamiliar, Can't Stop The Serenity is a global series of screenings of the movie Serenity, held throughout the world on or around Joss Whedon's birthday and raising funds for Equality Now, Whedon's favorite charity (and an extremely worthy cause).

The Jane hat was made for days like this, y'all.

So yesterday morning Browncoats from all over the metroplex gathered at the Studio Movie Grill in Arlington to do something right, as well as to enjoy each other's company and enjoy a pretty shiny movie. Hubby and I have been attending the event for five years now (we missed the first one, sadly). Every year we find ourselves immersed in a crowd of like-minded folk and it is a truly wonderful feeling. It's not just that we are all fans of all things Whedon. I mean, yeah, there is that. But it is also a group of people who support the cause of equal rights for women all across the planet.

One of the great things about this event is that it is just that, an event. You aren't just going to a movie. There is always more to a Can't Stop The Serenity screening. At our event they also showed Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (singing encouraged), held an evil laugh contest, a costume contest, an raffle of all sorts of Whedon-verse goodies, and then auctioned off even more awesome items. Of course, there was also plenty of trivia to be had. All in all a fantastic time. We even actually won something in the raffle! I ended up going home with a shiny new copy of Done The Impossible, the documentary about how the fans were a driving force in getting the movie Serenity made after the cancellation of Firefly.

Before the show got underway, we got to view a message from Joss himself, thanking everyone who is part of the Can't Stop The Serenity event. So far Browncoats around the world have managed to raise over half a million dollars for the cause. That may not sound like a lot, but it truly is. He also mentioned that next year will be the twentieth anniversary of Equality Now, and hopes to make some noise when that times come, because the time has come for this organization, and all that it stands for, to be noticed. As Joss said, this cause boils down to wanting half of the human population to have the same rights as the other half. I think it is hard to argue with a message like that, and every little bit of boost we can give the signal sending that message takes us one step closer to that goal.

Spread the word, folks, spread the word. If you aren't local to DFW, here's a link to the global site, see if you still have time to get into the one in your area! Either way, definitely plan to attend next year, I have a feeling it is going to be BIG!

Friday, June 24, 2011

New TV Scorecard: Outcasts

Okay, okay, I know, technically Outcasts isn't new. It's already completed its first season (and I think entire series) run across the pond. But it just premiered on BBC America this past week, so it's new to me. Avoiding spoilers has been no easy feat, either. At least now I am finally free to read the episode reviews io9 posted back when the show aired in the U.K. You can find the first one (which covers the first two episodes, so maybe wait until next week) here.

So. Outcasts. My initial take is that there seems to be a lot going on here, without many answers provided to the viewers. I am not complaining about this, just making a note. The basic premise of the show is that humanity has for some unspecified reason had to flee Earth. A group of pioneers has settled on a new planet called Carpathia. They've been there ten years and everything is not, of course, copacetic. On the ground we've got two factions gearing up for what is likely to be a very messy conflict. There is also a possible third group outside of the colony, unbeknownst to most of the colonists. I am guessing the folks in this third group are the titular outcasts, since it doesn't seem as if the primary Carpathians are Earth's rejects. In the air, so to speak, we have the incoming transport from Earth. As the story unfolds we quickly learn that it has been five years since the arrival of the last transport, as well as that the current arrival is likely to be the last. A little deft exposition also reveals that many of the transports that have arrived have had problems actually landing due to the ships being ill-equipped to deal with reentry into the planet's atmosphere.

I would be tempted to call this first episode purely set up, except it answers far too few questions to qualify as such. Instead I think it could better be termed an introduction into the world of Outcasts, an intriguing one at that. My only real quibble is the wasted use of Jamie Bamber. Don't get me wrong, he really got to flex his acting muscles here, but come on. Why make him go crazy and die in the very first episode? That's not cool, man. The many questions raised about his character's motivations (and sanity) were rendered moot before we could even begin to explore them. Why, then, raise them in the first place?

Bottom line: Right now I don't really have an attachment to any of the characters. I don't really know where my sympathies do (or should) rest. The episode spent a lot of time spread out between all of the different characters (two of whom died before it was over), and not enough with any one to really let us get to know them. But. That being said, I am very curious to see where it goes from here. So far this is my kind of science fiction. I will definitely keep watching. Bonus, with the knowledge that Jamie Bamber isn't a regular cast member, I can probably just enjoy the very short ride without being too disappointed when it is over.

Here are a few questions I will be hoping are answered before that end does come:
  1. Who, exactly, are the outcasts in this scenario? Why are they outcast, exactly?
  2. What happened on Earth to make humanity leave in the first place, and why  does the evacuation seem to have gone so poorly?
  3. What is Cass' secret?
  4. Why does Protection and Security think that they can keep anyone protected and secure without guns when no one appears to be enforcing the weapons ban?
  5. Why does it seem like anyone who wants guns can get them, especially in light of said weapons ban?
  6. Why the heck didn't the Carpathians let Earth know about the shoddy transport construction before they lost contact with those they left behind?
I may need to figure out how to turn on the close-captioning on my television before the next episode though. I had a hard time following some of the dialects, even with my regular exposure to the Brits. Still, all in all, a solid first entry if you're the sort who is willing to give a story the chance to unfold.

First Impression Rating: 8.75/10 (It loses a quarter of a point for killing Jamie Bamber off so soon. Alpha-Girl over at Pink Raygun knows what I mean.)

~*~*~

Another Friday has come along, folks. Don't forget to check out Gronk today!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Southbound 35

Well, things went mostly well with the drive yesterday. The weather was pretty spiffy for the most part, though I could have done without the wind.

I accidentally (on purpose) overshot Oklahoma City last night and ended up stopping about 160 miles from home. I briefly considered pushing on through, but Baby Girl and I both really needed to stop. Of course, I did pick the hotel where the internet was down, though thankfully it is back up this morning. Cori gets cranky with no internet, folks. Also, why does autocorrect always try to capitalize internet? It really can't still be considered a proper noun, can it?

Anyhow, should be a short drive home, yay! Then I will collapse like an flan in a cupboard and all will be well.

Laters, y'all. Send some happy home-stretch travel thoughts my way, please.

Here, have a picture of my daughter being awesome at Cracker Barrel:

Straight for the peg game.

Also, a very happy birthday to Mr. Joss Whedon! Thank you for all of the awesomeness. We look forward to your next round of goodies, sir.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On The Road Again

Today I bid adieu to my mother and stepfather and head on back to Texas. It has been a wonderful visit, even if some of our plans had to be changed due to circumstances beyond our control. It is always so nice to get to see my family again.

The plan is to try to make it to Oklahoma City tonight (well, almost to OKC or just past it, I have personal reasons that keep me from wanting to actually stop overnight in OKC itself ever again in my life if I can help it, especially when I am alone with my daughter). That will make for a super short easy jaunt back to DFW tomorrow in theory.

The good old Facebook seems to be telling me that everyone down in DFW is experiencing some crazy-ass stormy weather right now (while the news up here would have us believe that the entire state of Texas is on fire at the moment), and we have had some rainy/stormy weather going on up here as well. This tells me I have a more interesting drive than I would like ahead of me today.

I did engage my limited weather-fu skills last night, however, and did a bit of research. It seems to be that these are two completely different storm cells not moving toward each other (at least along my path of travel). Looking at the major cities along my path it looked like I should expect random chance of showers until I get past Kansas City snd then for things to be pretty dry from there. A quick check again this morning shows my way to be pretty clear of rain and a mostly sunny, if windy, drive. Fingers crossed.

So that's me today. Wish me luck. Have a great one, folks! Stay safe if you're in a part of the country with the crazy weather!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You're Doing It Wrong

Well, I am, at least. Apparently.

I finally sat down with my mom yesterday and got her to explain the basic increasing stitch for knitting yesterday. (The front and back knit increase, for the curious.) It turns out that the reason I couldn't get the stitch to come out correctly based on the instructions in my knitting books is because I have been knitting incorrectly. This. Whole. Freaking. Time.

Apparently, I have been inserting the needle incorrectly during knit stitches, which has caused my stitches to all be uniformly twisted. It hasn't really been a problem for me because I have also been compensating by wrapping the yarn around the needle the wrong way when I do purl stitches. Hoo boy.

So Mom patiently sat there and checked my stitches repeatedly while I practiced doing these oh so basic stitches the right way. I sort of kind of have the hang of it now. Correcting the knitting issue seems to not be a problem for me. The purl correction is proving to be a bit more challenging to remember, however.

Sigh.

Then, once I felt I had a decent handle on that, we went back to working on increasing. Mom and I both agree that the basic increase stitch is pretty horrid (it leaves a purl-like bump in the knit-side wherever you add a stitch, not pretty), so she showed me a couple of other types of increases as well. Maybe when I get around to my next amigurumi I will be up to trying that knit puppy pattern again. We shall see. I made a little practice swatch (and, when decreasing, discovered a whole new set of behavior I need to learn), which I was going to photograph for you. But I gave it to my daughter to play with and she disappeared it. So, sorry. No photo for you.

Discussing it with my mom, I also decided to go ahead and start knitting correctly on the rest of my Doctor Who scarf. I was at a color change in the pattern anyway, so it seemed like a natural place to change up the way I knit. Overall, it is not that noticeable so far. I do see, however, that doing it this way makes the stitches a lot looser. Mom says this is because my stitches aren't all twisted up, which makes perfect sense. It does also mean that the final third of the scarf is probably going to be more stretchy than the rest. Most of me is okay with this. The scarf is for me, after all, and it is doubtful most people will notice unless I point it out to them.

There is a small part of me, however, that knows this will likely drive me just a little bit crazy (crazier?) for the rest of forever. Sigh.

Oh well. The more you know, right? Learning is always an uphill climb. At least most of the time the end result is worth the struggle. I think this will probably be one of those cases.

I hope you have a great day. I will be spending it trying to help my mom have the best birthday possible. I don't know that it gets much better than that, really.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Things Are Going Swimmingly, Or Perhaps I Should Say Knittingly?

For the curious, I did indeed make it to my mom's without incident this past weekend. Baby Girl was, for the most part, extremely well-behaved while on the road. The first night we stopped and got a hotel room about eight or so, which gave me almost two hours to chill and her some time to run around and expend energy before it was time to start her going-to-bed routine. I did not take her pack 'n play into the hotel with me on Friday night  because I wanted to see if she could just share a bed with me. This was...not my brightest idea. While eventually she did settle down and sleep more or less in the middle of the bed, she was pretty restless all night. I got very little quality sleep because of this (and because she, at one point, kicked me in the frakking eyeball just as I was drifting off--which didn't wake her up in the slightest, despite my loud and startled reaction). Other than that though, things went mostly pretty well.

The second day of driving was much better than the first, mostly because it was shorter. I will say, the gas station restroom we stopped at in Missouri on Saturday was far and away much nicer than anything we stopped at in Oklahoma or Kansas. This includes the Love's I stopped at, hoping for a safe haven of sorts in that department, which had a just plain scary bathroom. It continues to baffle me how many so-called "travel stations" have either no changing table or just despicable bathrooms overall. I know, I know, gas station bathrooms, who cares? But, man, I do. Especially being on my own with my daughter. I would like to find some place (relatively at least) clean and with a convenient (or at least not inconvenient) location for changing my child's diaper. Sigh. Sorry, ending rant now.

Anyhoo. I am very much enjoying the visit with my mom and stepdad so far. My grandparents (my mom's parents) even surprised me by coming up to visit Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. They had hoped to stay for my mom's birthday (which is tomorrow), but my grandfather is not in the best of health and traveling takes its toll on him. Still, it was wonderful to get to see them.

My mom has commented once or twice about how hot and muggy it has been here the last few days and it just makes me laugh. While I will concede that it is a little muggy, it's hardly anything to annoy me. As far as heat goes, well, it's been in the mid-80s range and supposed to stay that way throughout my stay. Compare that to the high-90s/triple digit temperatures that the DFW area has been seeing, and well...I think you understand why I think the mid-80s is a perfectly wonderful temperature range.

Of course, no visit with my mom would be complete without a trip to the local yarn store. Saturday afternoon we ventured to the shop where she works, a wonderful little store called Knitted Together. I did treat myself to a few goodies while there:

Cascade Yarns 220 Superwash Quatro in Green Tea.

Cascade Yarns 220 Superwash Quatro in Summerdaze.

Interweave Crochet, Winter 2010 and Summer 2011 issues.

I would have gotten three skeins of the green Quatro (come on, it's called "Green Tea," for Pete's sake, how could I resist), but there was just that one lonely ball in the store. So the blue will have to keep it company I suppose. I feel I showed remarkable restraint, overall, just getting the three balls. There were five balls of a spiffy grey wool on sale that I was eyeing but managed to talk myself out of purchasing. My space for yarn storage is at a minimum at the moment and without knowing what specific or even type of project I wanted to make with it, well, it really wasn't justifiable.

As far as the magazines go, they both have lots of wonderful patterns I want to try, including the cover patterns shown on each. So exciting!

So as we head into the week, I am a very happy Cori, hanging out with my mom, knitting, reading, playing with the kiddo. Trying to help my mother explain Dolores to my grandmother. It's good times. The Doctor Who scarf is even growing for the first time in months, huzzah!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Baby Girl is so sleeping in the pack 'n play from here on out.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Finished!

Hey, look, I made a towel!

Hoopy Frood by Cori 2011.

Hoopy Frood detail.

Pattern: Nested Squares by Patricia Lillie.
Yarn: Knit Picks' Dishie in Jay (one skein).
Needles: Size 5 Straight Needles

It took me a while to get around to getting this finished, but I am oh so happy with the results. As I got to the last few rows and the amount of yarn left in the ball kept shrinking, I started to fear that I might not have quite enough to finish. I wasn't too worried, since I did have leftovers of the other ball I got in this color (used for my other towel project), but it seemed like it would be a big pain to start a new ball so close to the end. Thankfully, I didn't need to do that! I finished with some to spare, see:


Now, I am off to my daughter's music class and then we embark on our journey to the fabulous land of Iowa. Have a fantastic weekend folks!

~*~*~

Don't forget to get your Friday Gronk on! Today, Gronk discovers the wonderful procrastination tool that is kitties on the internet.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Completely Immersed

An announcement was made this week that a third Dragon Age book will be coming out (hopefully) later this year. As with the first two, the book will be written by David Gaider, who was the lead writer for the Dragon Age games (as well as a slew of other Bioware titles). The first two books were extremely spiffy, as I believe I have mentioned here before, so I'm sure you can imagine how excited this news makes me. The third book, titled Asunder, will tie in with the events of Dragon Age II. (Which, by the way, I finished last night, go me!)

This news, plus renewed chatter from Felicia Day about her forthcoming Dragon Age web-series (squee!), got me thinking (again) about how immersive the best science fiction and fantasy worlds are. If you have ever wondered why SFF fans are so completely into whatever they are fans of, I truly believe this is the reason. The amount of work that goes into creating these universes is staggering. There's enough there to allow the fans to actually imagine themselves within the world having their own adventures, with or without the "main" characters of the game or movie or show or what have you.

For my money, these are the top three most immersive SFF universes, the ones I want to just keep playing in and never come out:

Number 3: Star Wars
The really, truly, wonderfully cool thing about the Star Wars universe is that it goes so far beyond the central three (or six) stories. Beyond that handful of characters that everyone knows so well, whether they think themselves fans of Star Wars or science fiction at all. The expanded universe, both canon and not, extends for thousands of years before and after the original trilogy. There really are stories enough there to fill the entire galaxy that Lucas dreamed up way back when. Even with the tight reins he keeps on his sandbox, there is still more than enough room for everyone to play. Pick your flavor: Jedi? Mandalorian? Bounty Hunter? Smuggler? Sith? Clone? Imperial? Rebel? X-Wing Pilot? What era do you want to visit? There's a book or a game out there that will let you experience pretty much any story you might be craving.

Number 2: Stargate
Okay, one and two on this list are very closely placed, I'll grant you. With Stargate I can immerse myself completely in the story and the mythology of it all and, I won't lie, frequently imagine I am stationed on Atlantis butting heads with McKay on a daily basis. There are many, many books, most of them very well written. I hope Fandemonium keeps producing them for years to come. Big Finish Audio also produced two series of audio dramas, read/performed by the actor who portrayed the character each story is about. That's just darn cool. Then there's the fan fiction. That's a whole different kind of playground, but still a fun one. While the shows sparked no shortage of imaginations, everything is still so centrally linked to the main characters of whichever show one prefers. This isn't a bad thing, granted, what made Stargate so enduring was its amazing and memorable characters. I will be very curious to see if this doesn't expand a bit now that all of the shows are off the air. It would be lovely to see a (canonical) Stargate expanded universe that could grow to the size of the Star Wars EU. But even if that never happens, there is still the already mentioned fanfic. Some of those writers have already started telling stories about the next generation of 'gaters. Still, Stargate does come in at number two because, in the end, fiction though it may be, it is still set in a world that very closely resembles our own. It just isn't quite enough of an escape.

Number 1: Dragon Age
Of course. Oh, come on. Did you really think this was gonna be anything else? You know I have to really love this world to put it above the all-awesome Stargate. As I've said before, there is something about the world of Thedas that just draws me in. I am like a fish that saw something shiny and when I went to investigate, found myself being reeled in to shore. It seems more than likely I'll be getting a new, Dragon Age-related tattoo before the summer is out. I am already thinking about when I'll get my next chance to play it again. Sadly, that won't be any time soon. But hopefully the web-series and the new book can tide me over until I can get back. After all, we are only forty years into the Dragon Age itself, which leaves us another sixty to play around with. That's gotta be at least two or three more games, right?

I know I am not alone in this--the fandoms just these three universes have ignited are proof alone of that. But I also know there are so many more fandoms out there. Do any of you have a world that you just dive into head first? Where do you go to play, knowing full well you're likely to get lost, and being more than a little okay with that fact?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On the Playlist

What road trip would be complete without a new music mix? None of mine, that's for certain. Every time I have embarked on a road trip, for as long as I can remember, I have always made at least one new mix-tape or mix-CD for said trip. This coming journey is no exception. This time I decided to go with all songs that I can sing along with at the top of my lungs (for keeping myself energized and to entertain my kiddo). If I'm honest with myself, most of these songs have made their way onto multiple mixes, but never before have so many of them been assembled on one disc for my listening pleasure! I am already excited to pop it in to my stereo!

For the curious, here's the mix I made yesterday:

Drive On
  1. Dixieland Delight by Alabama
  2. Mean by Taylor Swift
  3. Alright by Darius Rucker
  4. Lover, Lover by Jerrod Niemann
  5. You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon
  6. She Likes Hair Bands by Butch Walker
  7. Mr. Jones by Counting Crows
  8. Unwell by Matchbox Twenty
  9. Long Way Down by Goo Goo Dolls
  10. Hey Jealousy by Gin Blossoms
  11. Hey, Soul Sister by Train
  12. Fast Car by Christian Kane
  13. I'm Gonna Be Somebody by Travis Tritt
  14. Small Town Kid by Eli Young Band
  15. Small Town Saturday Night by Hal Ketchum
  16. Gunpowder & Lead by Miranda Lambert
  17. Breathe by Michelle Branch
  18. Fair to Middlin' by Collin Herring
  19. Little Red Rodeo by Collin Raye
  20. You Look Good In My Shirt by Keith Urban
You can probably see the train-of-thought nature that went into some of the assembly of this mix, but I am pretty happy with it. It should be a fun listen. 

Of course, just one mix for a twelve hour drive won't cut it. I do realize this. Sadly, I am not quite into the twenty-first century with the electronics in my car and cannot just plug in my iPod to select from whatever I feel like listening to in my vast library of music and audio stories. I'm going to get there one day (soon, hopefully). My stereo is equipped for it, it just doesn't have the actual connector installed, and every time I ask my dealership about getting it done, I get some vague mumbo jumbo about their "audio guy" and his mysterious and baffling (to them) schedule, so I have yet to get that taken care of. Probably gonna cave and go elsewhere at some point. But. Not before I leave on Friday.

This means assembling a good selection of CDs to take along with me, in addition to the aforementioned mix. Here's what I've got:
  1. All twelve of Big Finish Audio's Stargate SG-1 and Stargage Atlantis audio dramas (six for each show, each clocking in at around fifty minutes to an hour).
  2. There's A Hippo In My Tub by Anne Murray (for the kiddo).
  3. The album of songs from my daughter's current semester of music class.
  4. All the Stars and Boulevards by Augustana.
  5. Can't Love, Can't Hurt by Augustana.
  6. Augustana by Augustana. 
  7. Fishin' For Woos by Bowling For Soup.
  8. All of my favorite Bowling For Soup songs not on the new album (condensed into two CDs--which, hey, lets me put two versions of Belgium on there, score).
All in all, I think this should keep us going out there on the open road. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lining Up Ducks

I am going out of town at the end of the week, heading up to Iowa with my daughter to visit my mom for her birthday. Even though we're not leaving until Friday (by the by, there probably won't be a post on Friday), I am already starting to get into the frame of mind for packing. Got a bag already filled with clothes for my daughter.

Now, I am a road warrior, this is something that I get from my father.  If it is feasible to drive somewhere, I will drive.  But I do have to admit I am a teensy bit nervous about hitting the road on my own with a toddler for the first time. It's about a twelve hour drive, which normally I wouldn't flinch at taking in one go. With Baby Girl in tow, though, I'll plan to split it up into two days of driving. It's not the driving bit that has me nervous, it's the keeping my daughter happy and occupied whilst I am driving that is giving me a little bit of pause. Still, I think we should be fine. I am going to keep a bag of toys up in the front passenger seat that I can pass back to her if she seems to be getting bored or fussy, and we'll be taking the iPad along, of course (she can spend hours playing with that thing). I'll also try to stop for lunch somewhere with a playground, as well as keep my eyes open for a rest area to stop at so that she has a few opportunities to actually run around and expend some energy. Splitting it up into two days also means we can stop reasonably early in the evening and I can let her stretch her legs before bed time. I think we'll be good. Keep your fingers crossed for me that she sticks to her usual genial temperament while we are on the road!

In addition to getting everything ready for the trip itself (and making sure that my husband and the kitties have enough food stocked up at home to survive my absence), I do have a few things I would like to achieve before I leave:
  1. Finish the dish towel I am knitting.
  2. Finish watching Stargate Universe season two.
  3. Finish my current playthrough of Dragon Age II.
Items 1 and 2 are pretty much a lock to get done. I am well past the halfway point on both, and can do them at the same time while watching/playing with my daughter. I might possibly get both of these wrapped up by tomorrow, which would be outstanding. I will take the Doctor Who scarf with me to work on during my trip (not while on the road, of course), as well as maybe a few knitting basics so I can get some lessons from my mom. Increasing has proven tricky for me, and I am hoping she can give me some pointers, as she is a knitting goddess.

Finishing up my game should be doable, I think. I am into the third act now, which means the home stretch. I would prefer to not leave right before the end of the game, because then I lose the mindset of the game in the week I am not playing, and it makes the ending a little less satisfying. Though this particular playthrough hasn't been the most satisfying experience in any case. I mean, yes, my battles have been going spectacularly for the most part (except for the encounter with the Arishok, that was a bear), sure. But the character development side of the game? I am in the third act already and I have only gained the loyalty of one of my companions. Two of them have left my party for good. My romance is moving slower than a snail. I think it may be because I have not been paying attention to which party members I take on which quests, so I have missed some opportunities to gain loyalty (or heck, even rivalry) points. It is frustrating though. Losing Isabela has definitely screwed up more than one quest. I think it might also be my decision to take the "good guy" dialogue options. They've made my Hawke a bit bland--inoffensive to most everyone, but not really interesting to them either. I dunno. I think probably at some point I'll do another run through of just DA II porting in my character from the recent run of DA: Origins. See if I can't do better on another go around. By the way, I was totally right about the Bone Pit dragon fight--there was definitely a bigger dragon waiting for me. Managed to take it down in one go though, so huzzah!

Anyhoo, so that is what I am up to this week. Getting ready for my trip, running some errands, and finishing up some ongoing projects. Woohoo! Let the good times begin, right?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stargate? Stargate!

I have to say, I had a pretty darn good weekend overall. I got to spend lots of quality time with my husband and daughter, played a ton of my game, watched the first half of Stargate Universe season two again, and did plenty of knitting. This makes for a pretty happy Cori.

Watching the early season two episodes of SGU again has certainly been interesting. The whole deal with T.J. and the simulation the ship built for her when she lost her baby made a lot more sense the second time around. I don't know if it is just because I already knew what was really going on or if seeing all of the episodes back to back helped the story come across much better than when it was originally aired. It does seem that SGU is a show that benefits greatly from being watched in big chunks of episodes rather than one at a time. It seems like that is the doom of a lot of really great television shows these days--they are written with a compelling story that is spread out over many episodes, which unfortunately doesn't hold up well when subjected to the scheduling practices of today's networks. Too bad, really, because I much prefer a good solid compelling story in my television rather than episode after episode of stand alone boxed tales where there are no real consequences for the events therein.

I will say, though, that the arrogance of Rush still floors me on a second viewing. Goodness, gracious. How in the world (universe?) is it logical to come to the conclusion upon finding the bridge that he must first learn every one of the ship's systems before sharing the knowledge of the bridge with the rest of the crew. Would it not make more sense to have the entire crew learn the ship's systems together. It would likely have prevented such unnecessary and tragic events as the death of Riley, I'd wager. Aw...Riley. I had forgotten how much I loved his character until he was back on my screen again. Then, just like that, he was gone once more. Sigh. That still hurt.

Also, in regards to Destiny's overall mission...well, I'm with Lieutenant James on this one. Her line from the episode "Visitation" really sums it up for me.

Rush: I see the greatest mystery of all time.
James: Really?


Look, I get that evidence of intelligent beings having existed before the universe as we know it even began is a pretty amazing and not unsubstantial discovery. I do. But I don't think  hunting for it is worth holding all of those people who never signed up for that mission hostage aboard Destiny instead of finding a way to get them home via the stargate. As Rush said when they diverted the ship's course to investigate the space ship graveyard where they first encountered the Drones, it's not a matter of giving up on the mission, only a matter of delaying it. I don't think anyone would be trying to force Rush to leave the ship if they did find a way home. Young demonstrated in "Twin Destinies" that he was more than willing to allow anyone volunteering to stay behind for the mission to do so.

It seemed to be my understanding that Rush actually expected them to find the source of that signal. But the ship has been looking for it for millions of years, and there was no indication they were close enough to the source of the signal to find it within the lifetime of anyone on the crew. I guess I just don't understand what the endgame was. I know that the showrunners had one in mind, certainly, I just never saw any indication of what it was. As Douglas Adams has been known to say, "space is big."

To me, the show was always so much more interesting when it was about the crew just trying to find a way to survive this messed up situation in which they found themselves. And, yes, when they were trying to find a way home. SGU was, at its heart, a show about the people, not the mission. But that's just my take, I suppose.

Anyhoo, while we're on the topic of Stargate, I thought I would update you on my planned Stargate Atlantis rewatch. So, I am going to kick off July with an intergalactic bang. My SGA rewatch will officially begin on Wednesday, July 6. We'll do the double-episode pilot "Rising" and then move on the next week to two episodes a week, posted on Mondays and Wednesdays. I hope you'll join me as I make my way back through my favorite television show of all time!

Friday, June 10, 2011

We're Sorry, But The Brain You Have Called Is Temporarily Unavailable

Hey, it's Friday! Go check out the new Gronk!

I myself am going to kick off the weekend by taking my daughter to her music class and then to the zoo. Because the zoo is awesome, guys.  Gonna see some penguins, wave at my Komodo dragons, maybe let the kiddo chase an otter or two. There are even dinosaurs to check out. Good times.

Here, have some LOLcats to make up for the lack of a substantiative post.

But you said you like your tea sweetened?!


Things Cats Love/Hate


Untitled


And last, but certainly not least, this one.


Just so we're clear


Have a stellar weekend, folks! See ya Monday.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Maybe I Am Nitpicking Here

In the past week I've noticed something going on in the Star Wars expanded universe that bugs me just a bit. It's the usage of the term "alien."

I have been working my way through the comic series Star Wars: Legacy, which is set several hundred years after the original trilogy. It features a descendant of the Skywalker line once more trying to find the balance between the light and dark sides of the Force within himself. It is mostly pretty awesome (or I wouldn't have kept reading it past the first volume).

But the other day I noticed a human commander speaking to someone refer to a third party in the room (a non-human) as an "alien." It was jarring to me, and took me right out of the story for a moment. There were maybe two humans in the room in this scene, and several non-humans, all of different species. It seemed odd to me in a galaxy where no one planet seems to be populated entirely by humans that anyone would refer to someone of another species as an alien. Why not "the Twi'lek" or "the Wookie" instead?

Then yesterday I was checking out a video for a newly announced group quest in the forthcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, and there it was again. "Its alien builders called it...." (Emphasis mine.)

In thinking back on the original trilogy, and even the prequels, I can't really remember any instances where a human called another non-human character an alien. Maybe I am imagining that. Though I did just watch the entire original trilogy again over Memorial Day weekend. I hesitate to look it up in case I am proven wrong. It just doesn't make sense to me to have humans referring to non-humans as aliens in this particular universe. At best we are millennia away from when humans, on their own homeworld, wherever that might have been, originally set out to explore the galaxy, even in the games.

Heck, even in the games, which definitely had a humanist point of view (since the stories required you to be playing a specific person, your race was set at human), the only instances I can remember of non-humans being referred to as aliens were to make a point of a very specific group of humans who were out for humanity alone. That was there to make a point about the prejudices of a certain group.

It was never used in the way that we humans on the planet Earth use the term. Using it that way, in the context of the Star Wars universe just seems plain wrong to me. I feel like the only time that phrase would be appropriate in such a setting is in the event of encountering something completely new and unknown, and heretofore not experienced by anyone else in the galaxy. Something, in other words, truly alien to the people encountering it--as would be the case for us modern humans from Earth meeting an individual from another planet of another species. (To be fair, the reference in the Star Wars: The Old Republic clip might be such a case, they may have been stating that the builders were some race outside of the galaxy's collective experience, though it didn't come across that way to me from the brief video.)

I don't know, it just bugs me.

Probably I am reading too much into this. I am one of the first people to roll my eyes at those folk who gripe and complain that the aliens shown in various movies, television shows, or books are too humanoid. There are certainly restrictions to the human imagination (not to mention budgetary restrictions on the people who create our entertainment). No matter how out there we think alien life might look, we are hardwired to think of the basic template for sentient life being closely related to our own (or that of a few other species found here on Earth). Of course, I am also one of the first people to get annoyed when a lone human in a story finds himself (or herself) among a new species and starts calling them aliens, when it is that human, in fact, that is the alien in the story. The creatures being encountered may be alien to the human, but they are not, in that context, actually in and of themselves aliens. If that makes any sense at all. Sigh.

Note to self: When writing science fiction, try to avoid stories about non-human, non-Terran based lifeforms, unless you are willing to grapple and/or play with the definition of the word "alien."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Memory Is A Funny Thing

The first time I played Dragon Age II, I remember getting into two different battles with dragons that just completely kicked my butt. I mean, my entire party died at least three times in each of these battles. I also remember at least one of them going in many waves (get enough hit points on the big dragon, a bunch of little and medium dragons show up to distract you and wear you down) and lasting at least fifteen minutes (which is a long time for a battle to last) on the go around that I finally beat it.

I have just finished up the first "act" of the game, and gone through both of those battles. I knocked out each one on the first try, and the Bone Pit battle (the horrendously long one) only took me about five minutes. I mean, yeah, that is awesome and all, but now I am wondering why the heck it was so darned hard the first time around. Did I just imagine it being that difficult? Or have I hit upon the magic skills and party configuration to make the "normal" setting seem more like the "easy" setting? I mean, yeah, the first time around I walked into those battles completely unprepared. I had no idea what was around the next corner, whereas now I do know what is coming up in most cases. Still. I am starting to see why some people do like to play the games on the harder settings.

Not that I will be upping my difficulty level any time soon. For me not playing it on "easy" (and not temporarily changing it to "easy" for tricky battles) is accomplishment enough.

I do have a sneaking suspicion that there must be one more bigger dragon fight at the Bone Pit, though the internet seems to be saying that isn't the case. We shall see, I suppose.

I am finally starting to run into a few battles that are giving me a bigger challenge. They only get harder, for the most part. I do have two acts left to go, after all. Still, I am quite impressed with how well my mage handles battles, compared to my rogue of the first time through. Also, I've been configuring my party with three mages (including myself) and my rogue Varric, who specializes in fighting with a crossbow. This means that all of my party (or most, when I deviate) is fighting with ranged attacks rather than close in. That could be the key.

I'll gladly risk the rivalry of mage-hating Fenris if my team can keep being this kick-ass!

Also, and major spoiler alert here, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you would prefer to avoid learning about some of the bigger plot points.....I find it very intriguing how Hawke's family gets picked off one by one throughout the game. Depending on the class you choose, as I've mentioned before, one of your younger siblings doesn't survive the flight from Lothering in the prologue. Act I concludes with your team's expedition into the deep roads. The first time I played I took my sister Bethany, and she got tainted by the darkspawn and died (permanently) at the end of the trip. So this time my Hawke heeded his mother's advice and left his little brother at home (I wanted my ranged 3 mage + Varric team anyway). Given the argument between Hawke and Carver before the former left, however, I wasn't all that surprised to return home to find out that Carver had become a Templar. For those of you not up on the world of Dragon Age, Templars in this setting are soldiers of the Chantry (church) specifically tasked with keeping watch/guard over the Circle mages and hunting down apostate mages, which my character in this game happens to be. Hmm. So, I left Carver behind half hoping he might still be part of my party when I got back, but clearly that was never the intent of the writers, since Templar!Carver is no longer available as a party member. I will be curious to see how letting him survive to become a Templar will play out in the final Circle/Templars showdown of the game, though. So now I get one more act to hang out with my mother before she is killed by a psycho Frankenstien wannabe (which, despite an earlier hope, I am fairly sure is also an unavoidable plot point). Again, very interesting how as Hawke goes through the events that make him the Champion of Kirkwall and gains the loyalty of all of his new friends and party members, he also has to lose the very people he came to Kirkwall to protect. That's...that's some impressive writing there, Bioware, I have to say.

In slightly related news (well, Bioware-related at any rate), the bonus goodies in the collector's edition of Mass Effect 3 have been announced. It is entirely possible that upon seeing this, I canceled my existing preorder of the basic game to instead preorder the collector's edition. I am amused by the fact that Commander Shepard now gets a "robotic dog" to hang out with when he's on board the Normandy. I suspect this has something to do with the awesomeness of the Mabari hound that came as bonus content of the collector's edition of Dragon Age II. Either that or someone at Bioware is a huge Doctor Who fan and wanted to work in a tribute to K-9. I am sure it will prove entertaining whatever the inspiration.

May you have a wonderful day filled with the things you love to do. Until tomorrow, folks.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Oh My Goodness, WANT!

There are all kinds of crazy awesome things coming out of E3 (a huge video game expo going on this week), but I don't know if anything is going to be able to top this:


It is a brand spanking new cinematic trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, Bioware's forthcoming MMORPG. Now, if you stop by this site even a little bit regularly, you know full well I am eagerly anticipating the release of this game (sadly, there's still no release date announcement, but this is not really a surprise).

This video just upped the amount of WANT I have been feeling. Exponentially, in fact.

It just looks SO. FREAKING. COOL. Seriously. Somebody commented on Bioware's post for the trailer that the company that made this should just make a full feature as a companion to the game. I would so not complain if that happened.

I mean, yes, obviously, this is just a trailer to showcase each of the different classes and the combat possibilities of the game, as well as to show off some of the settings and give a bit of story background. It succeeds on all counts with flying colors, by the way. There's no actual game content here, but I am okay with that. Watching this video made me so excited I had to get up afterward and walk around the house for a bit to come back down.

I thought the use of Satele Shan as one of the Jedi in the clip was a nice little touch. She was a main character in one of Bioware's The Old Republic webcomics. They have been releasing a new series once or twice a year to help give us some background into the political situation of the game and to keep up excitement for its release. Satele, aside from being awesome in her own right, is also a descendant of Bastila Shan, who was a primary companion character in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. (The webcomics also do a nice job of bridging the gap between the two KOTOR games and the forthcoming TOR.) I like that Satele appeared to be a Jedi Sentinel, which is the class I have been planning to play in the game. So that was a nice treat all around.

A part of me really, really would like them to at least announce a release date for this game. At the very least so that I can plan my replays of the first two KOTOR games. But I do understand why they are hesitating to do that. They don't want to tell the world they are releasing this game until they know they have everything figured out and working correctly. When they do, they can announce the release date, and that gives them a deadline to allow for one more round of beta-testing and the chance to tweak any issues they might have overlooked.

All accounts of people who have seen this game in action at this stage of development or who have played the beta version are that it is phenomenal. A lot is riding on the success of this game, for both Bioware and the future of MMO games alike, and I completely understand the impetus to get it just right. I am willing to be patient and wait because I know that I will be getting a quality product that will give me untold hours of entertainment and spark my imagination for years to come.

I am willing. I can wait. I can. I will.

But oh man, I really want it now.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Your Mileage May Vary

Okay, first things first. This post contains spoilers about the most recent Doctor Who episode (to air in America, anyway, the Brits are a week ahead of us), "The Almost People," and anything that has come before. It also contains links to even more spoilerific posts about said episode. Consider yourself warned.

Read on only if you desire to be spoiled...

So, "your mileage may vary." I have seen that phrase used in regards to this episode on two different sites already. What it means, basically, is that both commenters acknowledge that anyone watching this episode is likely to have a very different take on it than anyone else. Boy howdy is that correct. Just reading the discussion on Flick Filosopher's site, which has been going on for a week since the episode aired last weekend in the UK (grr, silly BBC America, now we are behind), is enough to show that there are several different interpretations as to what actually happened..

Here are links to that discussion if you are interested or curious, they are well worth the read, especially if the episode left you as confused as it left me.

Flick Filosopher's review of the episode.

Flick Filosopher's post (and ensuing discussion) pondering the ramifications of the episode.

io9's review of the episode.

I hesitate to call this episode "polarizing," because there seem to be way, way more than two reactions to it. I don't think this is necessarily a hate it or love it episode. There are so many shades of grey in this thing that I am amazed it is only credited with having one writer. Of course, I am sure the input of many many people went into the writing of this episode (as with every episode), but there are so many ideas in there, it just seems insane that one person could have largely been responsible for the whole story.

The big conundrum seems to be this: When the Doctor disintegrates Flesh!Amy at the end of the episode, does he, in fact, negate everything the episode (and the one before it, as this was the second of a two-parter) has been trying to get across about the sacredness of the sentience of the Flesh?

I will be honest with you. When I actually watched the episode, I was so caught up in the shock of the reveal (i.e., that Amy was actually not Amy but Flesh!Amy and that actual Amy was being held captive somewhere about to go into labor) that the greater implications of the Doctor's actions with regards to the Flesh didn't even occur to me. But reading the reviews and then the discussions (on Flick Filosopher, at least, I try to steer clear of the io9 message boards for my sanity's sake) I do think it is a fair question.

The Doctor spent much of the first episode trying to get the humans at the factory to accept that their Gangers, once released from their control, were in fact just as much real people as their template humans. He made more than one point about the fact that the Flesh was sentient even in goo form. He went through the whole charade of switching with his own Ganger to illustrate to Amy that the Flesh versions of people were pretty much identical to their templates in every way. He stabilized the surviving Gangers from the factory so that they could live the lives they felt they deserved as much as the humans. He even encouraged Miranda to speak to the corporation about recognizing the sentience of the Flesh so that the rest of the world could accept this truths learned in the factory. Then he turns around and zaps Flesh!Amy out of existence, just like that.

There has been much back and forth as to whether Flesh!Amy was sentient at all, just how sentient the goo version of the Flesh really was, and whether or not the suffering pile of discarded Flesh!Jens were actually a truth or a clever ruse set up by Flesh!JenPrime to get Rory on her side, yada, yada, yada.

For what it is worth, here is my take on the whole thing.

  1. I do think the way in which the factory workers utilized the Flesh and then discarded or "decommissioned" their Flesh Gangers after use was incredibly inhumane if the Flesh was at all sentient and able to feel the pain of the process, which seems to be indicated.
  2. It seems the way the Doctor disintegrated the Flesh with his sonic screwdriver was a slightly more humane and less painful process for the Flesh. I do think he was reluctant to do it, however, and only did so when he felt it was the only option available.
  3. It seems unclear what happened to the disintegrated Flesh. Did it return to goo state Flesh or was it just gone forever?
  4. It also seemed to be indicated that Flesh!Amy was later Flesh technology, so I agree with some of the arguments that it is likely the Flesh that made Flesh!Amy didn't feel the pain of being disintegrated like the earlier models because maybe Miranda's recount of the incident at the factory got the people behind the tech to iron out that wrinkle. I feel like this is likely because the Doctor seemed so surprised that the Flesh was sentient, and at the level of sentience, but he was clearly familiar with later versions of the technology. If the sentience was an issue in later models, he would likely have been aware of it.
  5. I suspect that the Doctor knew that, even if sentience was a possibility for Amy's Ganger once she was separated from Amy's control, he didn't have any means at his disposal of allowing the Ganger to remain intact once removed from Amy's control. To do that to the Gangers at the factory required a massive solar storm at the source of the controlling harnesses, which the Doctor doesn't have access to in the case of Flesh!Amy. So severing the link, restoring Amy's consciousness to her actual human body, was going to require decommissioning of the Ganger. So perhaps if the Flesh had to be decommissioned, doing so by sonic screwdriver really was the most humane way to do so.
  6. It is clear that the Doctor felt it extremely imperative that Amy's consciousness be returned to her human body as soon as possible (probably because she was in labor, but I suspect there were also a few other reasons).
So...I don't think that what the Doctor did in offing Flesh!Amy was quite the same as killing the factory Gangers would have been. I think he regretted it, especially in light of what he learned while at the factory. I also think that he truly believed he had no choice. Why that was the case, we are only left to guess, but I do think it was.

I also don't think that the ending of the episode necessarily undoes the groundwork leading up to it in regards to the independent Gangers. I think perhaps the point of that groundwork was to illustrate that those who are willing to use the Flesh to do their dirty work, knowing its possibility for sentience (and it is hard to argue that future generations could be unaware of this possibility) are the least moral kind of beings there are. I also think they serve to explain to us what the heck was going on with Amy and her quantum pregnancy. Then of course, this also seems to establish, and indeed emphasize, the differences between Flesh!Amy and the Gangers. The Gangers, once zapped, are completely separate entities from their template humans, able to exist, think, act, and feel independently from (though certainly similarly to) those humans. Flesh!Amy is not able to do any of these things. She is an avatar. She is, for all intents and purposes, actually Amy, who is unaware that she is not present with the Doctor and Rory in body as well as in mind and spirit. Without intervention, her Flesh body could not exist separately from her human body once her consciousness had been restored to her human body. Given the problems we saw faced by the independent Gangers, would not that kind of intervention be more cruel than simply allowing the Flesh to return to its natural state?

That is my take on it, at least. Maybe I am rationalizing because I, like many others, want to believe the Doctor acted with the best of intentions. I do not pretend he is incapable of cruel or mercenary acts, even murder. But I do believe that he does not perpetrate such acts unless they are the last resort, and almost always for the greater good. Or what he perceives as the greater good at any rate. It is, after all, entirely subjective.

But hey, your actual mileage may vary.

Next week though, dude! River Song's origin explained?!?! Rory out for blood! (Good lord, I hope they don't kill him again.) I do know one thing though. It is gonna be a hell of a wait after next weekend until the back half of the season starts back up.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Getting A Different Perspective

So I finished up the expansion pack for Dragon Age: Origins this week and have started in on Dragon Age II. I have made it through the introductory bit and have received my first "main" quest offer. Now I am just running around the city of Kirkwall and its surrounding environs trying to raise enough gold to actually go on said quest.  Also, finding and recruiting companions. Varric! Good times.

Already I am noticing what a different experience it is from the first time I played through. For one thing, since this time around I am playing as a mage (rather than a rogue like the last time), that means I start out with a different companion character.

Spoiler alert!

This spoiler brought to you by the Desire Demon.

Your character of Hawke starts out fleeing from the destruction of Lothering (a key event in the first game) with your mother and two younger siblings, twins named Bethany and Carver. Bethany is a mage and Carver is a warrior. As you flee Lothering, one of your siblings is killed by an ogre. Which one depends on the class you choose for your character. As a rogue or warrior, you will need a mage in your party, so it is your brother Carver that bites the big one. That is how I played it last time. But as a mage, you don't need to start out with two, and so it is Bethany that dies. Thus, I am now playing this through with Carver, a character I am not really familiar with at all. So that adds a level of new to things for me.

Also, at the start of the game, to get into Kirkwall, which is overflowing with refugees from the Blight, you need to agree to spend a year working for someone who will bribe the guards to let you in. The first time around I don't remember there being a choice between two different employers, but apparently there is. You can either work for the smugglers or for the mercenaries. Last time I ended up with the mercenaries, so this time I figured, hey why not be different? So I went with the smugglers. That hasn't had hugely divergent repercussions as of yet, just small deviations. But remembering back to my last time through, I suspect as the game goes on it will lead to some very different encounters down the road. I look forward to finding out what they may be!

Another nifty little detail that I didn't get last time is how my current character is tied to my character from the first game. In my initial playthrough, my Hero of Ferelden (as your character from game one is referred to in game two) was an elf. In game two you can only play a human (it was a story-telling choice the designers made), so if your first character wasn't also human obviously there's no real connection there. It wasn't anything that ever occurred to me to think about the first time around. But since I played a human in my recent replay, and am a human in game two as well, they throw in the detail that Hawke, the soon-to-be Champion of Kirkwall, is actually related to the Hero of Ferelden. Dude! That's pretty nifty. We're second cousins or something. It's a nice little detail that doesn't really affect anything about how you play but still helps tie things together a bit better.

Then there is the bonus content. You may remember that initially, I forgot to actually install the bonus content until I was almost done with the game! That bonus content included an additional companion character, so I never really got to know Sebastian at all last time around. Now, I can actually get the chance to see if I like him or not, yay! Also, I will get to take advantage of the Black Emporium throughout the entire game, which should be pretty spiffing.

Of course, there is the biggest difference at all. On a whim, I decided (for pretty much the first time ever) to play not as a girl, but as a (gasp!) guy.

Perrin Hawke, mage.

I am not quite sure what this is going to mean for my character romantically yet. I was kind of thinking of romancing Merrill. I felt like I neglected her last time, and since then have found out/realized she is voiced by Torchwood's awesome Eve Myles. Also, she seems like she might be the best match for my mage. Part of me thinks romancing Fenris would be a worthwhile challenge, but another part of me thinks that it would be more trouble than it is worth trying to win over the mage-hating elf. I am going to try to hold off on flirting with anyone until I get a better idea of the characters this time around, methinks. Oddly enough, while I had no problem sticking with the "smartass" dialogue options with my lady Hawke (hee hee, Ladyhawke), for some reason I don't think my guy can, or maybe should, go the same route. So I have been sticking with the "nice guy" options instead. That is going to drastically affect my relationships with the other characters, I suspect.

Overall though, I am definitely enjoying this second go-around! Such a freaking fun game! The differences are making it even more interesting, and I am really glad to be getting the chance to experience them. I cannot wait to see how they make things play out.

~*~*~

Don't forget, Friday means new Gronk! Looks like Harli isn't so much down with the house guest. Swing by and check out the new installment. It will give you a happy, and who doesn't like that?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

New TV Scorecard: Franklin & Bash

There are, as it turns out, quite a few new series premiering this summer that I want to check out. I thought it might be fun to give each new show a quick rating once it's premiere has aired.

The summer season kicked off last night with the premiere of TNT's Franklin & Bash. TNT brings us a lighter lawyer drama (gee, who would have imagined we be getting a new lawyer drama this season? *insert eye-roll here*) in the vein of Boston Legal and The Defenders starring television vets Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer. There is a true glut of law drama out there on television these days, even during the summer seasons, and if it wasn't for my love of both of the leads, I would probably have passed this up. But the casting genie struck again and so here we are.

Overall I found it mostly pretty enjoyable. There wasn't anything terribly innovative or unique about it, but it puts together the many tropes about funny lawyer shows together fairly well. Add to that a pretty impressive cast and it has potential. I definitely would like to see some of the more ridiculous elements toned down a bit going forward--look, I don't mind a random shot of MPG's naked behind, I am only human, but it was terribly unnecessary to the story. There was no real apparent reason for him to have actually been naked in that hot tub, other than as a "shock" factor.

The basic plot is that Gosselaar and Meyer play two oddball and underdog attorneys whose strange, yet often successful, antics attract the attention of the senior partner of a prestigious law firm. He drafts them to come work for him, to invigorate his practice. They clash with some of the more stick-in-the mud (and less scrupulous) employees of the new establishment. Now they must try to find their way among the big leagues whilst still maintaining their heart and integrity, and without conforming. Yada, yada, yada.

Like I said, not so much original, but amusing. There seems to be a pretty outstanding chemistry between Gosselaar and Meyer.  I totally buy that they have been friends since childhood. Here is a bromance of epic proportions in the making. Reed Diamond, who put in lovely turns on Journeyman and Dollhouse makes an excellent foil to the goofy pairing of the leads.

If the show can even out and stop trying so hard to be "cool" then it could turn out to be a really fun romp. Definitely more The Defenders and less Boston Legal, please.

Things I would like to see by the end of the season:
  1. Stop trying to be so "in your face." I think someone behind the scenes believes they were shooting a show for MTV or something. Just because these guys are partying and hanging out naked in hot tubs and having random hook-ups with new coworkers doesn't mean it needs to be portrayed so...crassly.
  2. Likewise, let's cut out a little of the cartoonish nature. These are adults, it is okay if they behave that way. Yes, lawyers can cut loose and have fun, but that doesn't mean they should be acting like college kids. It also means that the dominatrix being charged with prostitution should not show up for her first day in court looking like, well, a hooker. 
  3. Please tone down or just get rid of Gosselaar's character's crush on his old flame. I can see this being his big character "development" and I just really hope I am wrong. Unless said development is him accepting that she has moved on and doing likewise, I am really not interested. I have seen it a million times already (with this same actor, even). It has been done to death, and it is lazy writing. Let's just skip it, okay?
I will keep watching for now. It is Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, of course I will keep watching. Hopefully the show can find its legs quickly and will outlast many of these actors' other attempts at series. There is great potential here, this could be a wondrous quirky, amusing, entertaining show, if everybody will just calm down a teeny bit and refrain from going overboard with the stories and characters.

First impression rating: 7/10 (and a pair of swimming trunks for MPG).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Can't Really Help It

I am really and truly starting to get excited about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Let me tell you, July 15 can not get here quickly enough.

I've already asked my super wonderful mother-in-law to pretty please consider babysitting that day so I can go see it. I am sort of trying to convince my husband to take the day off of work so we can go see it together and as early in the day as possible.

The corners of the internet that I frequent are abuzz in a pretty much non-stop flow of details popping up here and there about the film. Not all of them are spoilers, mind you (well, not for anyone who has read the books). There are bits about the casts saying their final farewells and doing interviews about the experience now that it is almost completely totally over. There are just posters for the film being released for each of the characters, and trailers abound, of course.


I am as curious to see what is new and different from the book as I am excited about finally getting to see this epic tale--and it is epic, make no mistake about that--come to its visual conclusion.

The stars lined up wonderfully when Part 1 came out last November. My husband and I just happened to have planned a weekend away to Austin, just the two of us, that coincided with the film's release. I left the theater absolutely amazed and in awe. It was so fantastic! How on Earth was I going to be able to wait another eight months to see the rest of it??????

But those eight months are almost gone by. It is almost here. Every day there is something new out there to keep my anticipation elevated.

I may have mentioned here that I have been reading the Harry Potter books to my daughter at bedtime. It is slow going, we only get through about half a chapter a night. I know she is too little to truly understand, but I am establishing the routine of a story at bedtime, sharing with her something I love (setting the groundwork for it to worm its way into her consciousness and effortlessly become a beloved part of her life later down the road), and it is a chance to read through the series again. We are about half-way through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows right now. We are almost to the part where the first movie ended. Each night as I read to her, it gets more and more difficult to hold back, and to stop for the evening.

When this book was released, I was almost done with my reread of the first six stories in the series. In fact, I was finishing up The Half-Blood Prince when it arrived (I had pre-ordered it and, of course, selected same-day delivery). As soon as I finished book six I picked up my lovely copy of the final book in this cherished series, took a deep breath, and dove right in. I did not come up for air until I had finished. I stayed up until about six o'clock the next morning reading the entire thing. I could barely make myself stop to eat that day, I just couldn't put the book down. Reading it now in bits and pieces is an exercise in patience unlike any other I have ever known. Probably, it's good for me, but still. It is a challenge.

I have a predilection for books that come in series. Be they trilogies or more drawn-out affairs, I like getting several books to get to know a world and its inhabitants. Many of them I have read through two, maybe even three times. But I have lost count of how many times I have read and reread the stories so masterfully told by J.K. Rowling. These are books that I pick up only to find myself utterly lost within their pages.

Rowling has worked a powerful magic in writing these books, and I will forever be grateful to her for giving them to us. She could have easily accepted the movie deals and stepped back, letting Hollywood have its way with her work, but instead she was involved almost every step of the way through all eight films. These movies certainly have their ups and downs, but there is no denying that they have magic in their own right as well. I absolutely cannot wait to see what the final installment holds in store for us! I have no doubt I will be thoroughly enchanted.

So, to J.K. Rowling, I tip my hat. From the very bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. These are stories that will weather the generations, in both formats, I'd wager. I fully expect to be reading them to my grandchildren one day. Thank you for inviting me with you on this long, strange, wonderful journey. My life has been all the better for it.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how writing is done right.