Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Change of Plans

Over the course of the next few weeks I'm going to be overhauling this site with the intention of opening it to other (female) writers commenting on a wide variety of geek subjects. My primary focus will be comics, hence the upcoming domain change to WomenReadingComics.com, but I'm also going to be working with others to include posts about all manner of games, geek cinema, geek television including cartoons, cosplay, fandoms, and whatever else fits the general theme. I'll be keeping my own posts on these subjects in the archives, but going forward I will no longer be the sole contributor. Now that I have a reasonable savings sitting around I have decided to leave my day job to pursue work of this sort, so I'll have plenty of time and, more importantly, energy to sink into projects like this that I have always aspired to create.

So watch this space. Big things are coming.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

This Is How It Should Have Happened...

(Image source) - cause I can't draw!
As someone who used to publish a fanzine in her younger days, I can say without question that one of the things the internet is best for is fanfiction. It's reached the point where it's general pop culture knowledge that you can go online and find stories about any fictional character doing anything (sexual or not) to or with any other fictional character. But why do people feel compelled to write it? It's good practice for a professional career, but with few exceptions it's unsellable. It can get you fans in a tiny niche, but it can get you just as many people hating you for your take on things. Why do people write fanfiction?

Because they know what should have happened.

Thirteen years ago Douglas Adams wrote a prescient essay called How To Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The Internet (still available here), about how the internet was not changing culture so much as returning it to pre-consumer times:

This subjective view plays odd tricks on us, of course. For instance, ‘interactivity’ is one of those neologisms that [BBC journalist] Mr Humphrys likes to dangle between a pair of verbal tweezers, but the reason we suddenly need such a word is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television. Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport – the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for. We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.
The internet lets us as the audience participate in a more direct way than we've been able to since the advent of recorded entertainment. Often it's a peanut gallery of forum comments, but sometimes someone in the audience feels so strongly about something that they have to make their own mark on it. They write fanfic.

I've been watching the Young Justice fandom from a distance thanks to a friend of mine, and it's been fascinating watching week to week as they spin off little realities trying to extrapolate what will happen in the future. Every Saturday at 10:30 AM EST the lid is removed from Schrödinger's Episode and the status quo is reasserted only to spawn another hundred realities that Should Have Been. When those potential realities seem better than the one that comes to pass, fanfiction is born. I've done it myself, most notably in the Transformers: Armada days when my own ambitious ideas about the Mini-Cons were unmatched by the official fiction. (Scoff if you want at my delusions of grandeur, but the official fiction was mostly terrible.) Sometimes as a fan you're caught up in a feeling of how things should be that has to be expressed.

The internet has brought us back to the normal human state of audience interaction in art, and fanfiction is one of our best tools for commenting on how a story should have happened, if only the original writer was without editorial constraints, had more vision, or understood just how much Breakdown and Knockout were OTP.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Regenerating History; or, One Life, Furnished in Early Furman

I don't usually do online petitions. A couple thousand people clicking a button on a web site aren't going to change the world. But at a time when IDW's Transformers ongoing comic was barely breaking 10,000 copies a month, the petition to bring Simon Furman and Andrew Wildman back to continue where they left off in Marvel's Transformers series seemed like it might have a chance. That's all history now; the comic, Regeneration One, is coming out within the next couple months, with a Free Comic Book Day teaser in mere weeks. I don't think I've ever been so excited about a comic book.

I didn't read the Transformers comic as a child. I grew up on a dirt road in rural Alabama, only aware of comic books as something kids in movies read. I didn't have many of the toys, either. The show, however, broadcast out of Columbus, GA, cost nothing to watch, and it made a huge impact on me. I tried growing up. After living in one place all my life my family moved three times between my tenth and twelfth birthdays. I came into adolescence confused and feeling like my "childhood" was more than two years past, but finally I was in civilization. Eventually I became a comic book reader. Then, in a Toys R Us on an early December night in 1992, I saw the Generation 2 rereleases, and I rediscovered Transformers.

Within days I pillaged the used book shop for all their back-issues, including all four issues of Transformers Universe. My comic collection came in fits and starts, and my teenage years were spent trying to complete it. Two years after it was canceled I was finally learning the other story of the Transformers, an at times completely new take on the Autobots and Decepticons. By then the cartoon was airing every morning on the fledgeling SciFi Channel, and I also watched and recorded that obsessively, but the comic was what bridged me from childhood nostalgia to teenage fan. Especially once I discovered Simon Furman.

My first Furman stories left me shell-shocked. When I finally found some end-run issues, 78 and 79, I discovered my favorite characters beaten, battered, dented and dying. Budiansky's stories were good, especially in the beginning, but they didn't prepare my teenage mind for the bleak-yet-humorous space opera of Furman's writing. Characters I had never heard of in my childhood, characters like Nightbeat and Bludgeon, became instant favorites. Splash pages by Geoff Senior and Andrew Wildman were copied into nickel-machine black and white to be hung in my locker and glued to my notebook. Lines of dialogue ("You can't just die! You have to run around a bit first, fight back! What fun is this?") were memorized and recited to marginally interested friends. Those same friends were begged for money when I found an issue I couldn't afford, even from the dollar bin. Related comics like Death's Head found homes in my collection. Parents were begged for rides to the comic shop every Wednesday for a year so I could get the latest issue of Generation 2. A fanzine was started. Fanfiction of stunning mediocrity was written. Transformers became a major part of my life, and most of that could be placed squarely at the feet of Simon Furman.

Until 2001's Robots In Disguise cartoon, there were only really two major Transformers continuities. There was the Japanese G1 cartoon, and the UK G1 comic book, but they were both just extensions of one or the other. Beast Wars and Beast Machines played at being tied to both. After Robots In Disguise, though, nothing ever seemed to have the same impact. The explosion of different continuities diluted the significance of anything that happened in any of them. I found it a lot harder to care about any of it enough to bother writing fanfiction, and I found it harder to care about anyone else's. None of it really seemed to matter anymore. That's not to say there wasn't any good fiction, but it stopped seeming as important. Okay, so this Starscream in this continuity died. So what?

Now one of the Two True Continuities - the one that  had the most influence on me - is returning. Does it all boil down to "I want to see the Marvel G1 universe return because that's where I wrote all my fanfic"? Well...maybe. But doesn't that just show how influential and important that universe was?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Beating the Con Crud

Con Crud: It's become a geek plague, afflicting hundreds of poor unsuspecting convention-goers as they try to get back to their day jobs following a weekend of fantasy-themed debauchery and questionable clothing choices. I've had a long and storied history with it at BotCon, including the complete loss of my voice by Friday night at OTFCC 2003 (after working the merch pickup table all afternoon) and a prodigious case of strep throat at the end of BotCon 2007. For a while I was notorious for hogging the bathroom every morning and sleeping in on Sunday. But no more! I've conquered the Con Crud, and now that extra day I take off between coming home and going back to work can be spent enjoying life and finding shelf space for my new toys.
  1. Remember that you are a unique and special snowflake - The following advice is written by a 30-something woman with a moderate case of ulcerative colitis and frequent sinus problems. You may have an iron stomach. You may have an immune system of steel. You may not even need to read something like this! As we say here on the interwebs, YMMV.
  2. Airborne - Originally concocted to help travelers fight off the miasma that passes for air on airplanes, Airborne has been my secret weapon since 2008. The dry, overprocessed, overshared air of hotels and convention centers has a lot in common with airplane air. One of these before leaving your room every morning will go a long way toward making your Monday more pleasant.
  3. Probiotics - Personally, my stomach is not up to the stress of travel and constant crappy fast food. Even before my colitis really started making things unpleasant, I'd spend Sunday morning tied to the toilet - very annoying for my roommates who were just trying to shower and get to the MSTF show. Adding probiotics in the form of pills, yogurt, or something else to your diet about a week before the con can help prepare your insides for the stress to come.
  4. Pack a lunch - I started doing this to save money when BotCon was in a Disney resort hotel and lunch couldn't be had for less than ~$15, but it's good for your health, too. Most hotel rooms will have a small refrigerator, and you can get sandwich fixins or something more ambitious from a convenience store or Target nearby. Keep it in a sealed container in your backpack and find yourself freed from the shackles of constant fast food! Clif bars and similar prepackaged goodies are good to keep in your pack as well.
  5. Hand sanitizer - Usually I curse hand sanitizer as a major contributor to the evolution of supergerms, but there are times when it really is a good idea. This is one of them.
  6. Get some sleep -  I know this can be next to impossible when your favorite comic writer is hanging out in the bar downstairs well into the night, but it's important. The older I get, the harder it is to operate on a sum total of 4 hours of sleep for the weekend. Don't be like me at BotCon 2007, lying on the ground in front of the Hasbro booth because you're too out of it (also: feverish) to stay standing. Get some sleep.
  7. Be prepared - Add this to the TMI file if you like, but nearly without fail I am on my period during every single BotCon. I've never figured out what grudge my body has against me. I know by now that I need a box of tampons for my suitcase (or, more recently, a Keeper and a couple reusable cloth pads, but again, TMI file). If you think you're likely to get sinus headaches/sore feet/backaches/a visit from the Scarlet Crusade, make sure you pack what you need to take care of them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An MMO Far, Far Away, The Final Chapter (Maybe)

I'm not playing Star Wars: The Old Republic anymore.

This statement isn't met with nearly the same poignancy as my similar one about World of Warcraft. I don't really harbor any deep-seated nostalgia for a month and a half ago. I already pointed out some issues I had with the game, but at the time it was good-spirited ribbing toward something I otherwise enjoyed. I was having fun.

Just not $15 a month worth of fun.

It's not like I can't afford it. On the contrary, I recently got a promotion at work that has left me, for once in my life, able to cultivate a savings account. I just don't feel it's worth it. I even had one last critical post half-drafted, about how BioWare-style storytelling doesn't really have a place in an MMO, and maybe I'll get to it, but I might just as well not. My apathy has the final say.

And apathy, ultimately, is the problem. In trying to meld World of Warcraft with their story-heavy Old Republic games, BioWare has ended up with the best and worst of both. It has the social charms of an MMO without any of the actual charm that inspires me to wax nostalgic for WoW. It has the compelling story of a BioWare game, but with the annoyances and frustrations of dealing with other people. Those two statements may seem contrary, but fellow introverts will understand that a social component can be both good and bad. Still, if we declare that they cancel each other out, we still have mildly interesting characters in a lifeless setting. I mean, really, who's all excited to get their character to a high enough level to go to Tatooine?

That's not to say I'm in the market for a new MMO. I'm pretty happy poking my head into Glitch once or twice a day. The Long-Suffering Roommate is pretty worked up about Guild Wars 2, and it does look pretty promising, so I'm sure I'll give that a try when it comes out. As a free-to-play MMO, I won't feel as pinned to an all-or-nothing situation where I either have to pay $15 a month for something I only play a couple hours a week or not play it at all. I'm not sure $15 subscription fees are still a viable model, but perhaps that's a meaty enough statement for another post. For now, I'll just have to see if SWTOR eventually goes free-to-play.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

You Can Never Go Home Again

Sometimes I find myself waxing nostalgic for World of Warcraft.

It tends to start like flashbacks:
A mental image of a night elf, probably the last alt I played for a night, in an appropriately elf-colored forest;
That Forsaken in Felwood who ended up corrupting everyone at the Horde outpost that back in my day didn't HAVE a nice convenient trail;
The cove on the southern coast of Dragonblight that's filled with the ghosts of a doomed expedition;
The perfect Naxxramas playlist;
The view from Scryer's Tier looking out over Shattrath, tinged with the creative rush of massive RP drama;
Listening to the second-hand accounts of higher-levels friends telling me about Un'goro;
Fragments of years of my life spent Somewhere Else.

The saddest thing is that it's really no one's fault but my own. Yes, Blizzard has made a lot of controversial changes with Cataclysm, and I've posted before about how much I dislike them. But if I was still as desperate for what World of Warcraft was selling me, I could cope with it. I could find people to RP with - possibly on a new server, but I could find them nonetheless. I could find a new class or hit a new groove with one of my old classes. I could form new memories.

I just don't really want to. After 6 years, I'm Forsakened out. I'm maged out, I'm warriored out, I'm even Death Knighted out. I'm huntered out, after rolling a dozen and only getting two past level 20. I may be Big Open Community RPed out.

I've toyed now and then with the idea of resubscribing, but I'm not sure what I'd do if I did. I barely play SWTOR at this point. The idea of doing much of anything in Azeroth now leaves me with an odd sense of nostalgia tinged with a certain dread that I will not find whatever it is I'm looking for there. That day is over. I can never go home again.

Monday, January 23, 2012

An MMO Far, Far Away, Part 2

Level 15 going on 16. Maybe once I'm off Dromund Kaas I won't be sick of hitting things with lightsabers anymore and I can work through my Sith Warrior's rest bar.

My bounty hunter is a rattataki, which is a good jumping-off point to bring up an issue I have with Star Wars: The Old Republic that is, at least to some large degree, Bioware's fault: The race choices. What is a rattataki? Where would someone who doesn't read the excessive amounts of Expanded Universe fiction know them from? Well, let's see, there's Asajj Ventress, who was never in any of the movies but who has played a significant role in the ongoing Clone Wars show (and is one of my favorite characters). Except, wait... She's not actually rattataki. That got retconned. She was just raised by them or something. So that would leave...absolutely no one. I'm still playing one because I love the look of them, but they're hardly an iconic Star Wars alien.

You know what? Let's do a good old-fashioned list:
  1. Humans. Blah blah blah humans boring boring. Why are there so damn many humans? I can kind of understand the Imperial side of things because they're a bunch of bloody racists, but still. Humans are boring.
  2. Cyborgs. Like humans, but with shiny bits. I don't really think of cyborgs being an iconic Star Wars thing because, even though some of the major players all the way back to the original trilogy were technically cyborgs, they didn't have shiny bits. Still, in any sci-fi setting it's good to have that option.
  3. Twi'leks. This was a necessary alien race, because they are all the fuck over the place. Which leaves me wondering why they seem to have so little political power. I vote for an all-Twi'lek Empire.
  4. Zabrak. Here's where things start falling off a ledge. To start, Zabrak aren't even a thing. That name applies to a subset of Iridonians. There was an Iridonian in something your average non-alpha geek has seen, though. His name was Darth Maul. He was in the most maligned movie in the whole series, possibly one of the most maligned works of fiction in the whole canon. I'll give them a pass, though, because at least they're in the movies.
  5.  Mirialan. AKA Those Two Green Jedi Chicks In Episodes 2 and 3. They do look pretty awesome, but I'm not sure why a race characterized as highly spiritual gets to be Smugglers.
  6. Rattataki. Again, they did have a well-known member until she was retconned. You can play a character who looks like Ventress, at least.
  7. Sith Pureblood. So you mean "Sith" isn't just a name for bad Jedi? It's a race? Who look like skinny Eredar from WoW? Well, okay, if you say so...
  8. Chiss. Mostly notable for looking like red-eyed Nightcrawlers, the Chiss were introduced to the Expanded Universe in an early-90s series of novels. See also that thing I said in my last post about EU writers feeling a need to insert new things into the universe to mark their territory. They've continued to be in novels and comics but not actually any movies or anything.
  9. Miraluka. They're eyeless humans who see through the Force. Exciting, I know. Notable Miraluka include no one you've ever heard of.
 I understand there are always going to be a million different reasons for choices like this. One of the biggest ones in Bioware's case may have been their desire to reuse as much as possible from race to race. Every race has the same body types, the same hairstyles, the same basic features. They're only set apart by skin color choices and, sometimes, features like Twi'lek lekku and Zabrak horns. Voices vary only by class, not by race. Your human male Sith Warrior will have a different voice from your human male Sith Inquisitor, but not from your Sith Pureblood Sith Warrior. (Sith Sith Sith.) For someone who can spend hours messing with character creation, it's kind of a letdown for me. I know it's expensive to get all that Bioware voice acting in place, but I'd still like to have more varied races.

The odd thing is that there are even NPCs of other races. There are Rodians here and there, and a few Nautolans (another personal favorite), and a Togruta companion for one of the classes. The Smuggler class gets a Wookiee friend. (I realize cutscenes in Shyriiwook would be ridiculous.) It's possible they have plans to update that all as they go, and the Long-Suffering Roommate likes to keep reminding me that the game's only about a month old. But when you're only changing the heads anyway, why not put more variety in there?

Also I would like a seduce-able female companion for my female bounty hunter plzthx.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

An MMO Far, Far Away

Yes, it's been a while since I posted. Between work and school I've been bludgeoned about the head and shoulders with more other work that I care to think about, and on top of it...well, I'll be honest, I haven't had much to say. (Astonishing, I know.) I'd like to start making semi-regular (biweekly?) comic book review posts, but in the meantime, I've been dealing with a timesink even more nefarious than work or school: a new MMO.

This post is going to sound grumpy, moreso than I really feel about the game. Like the rest of the internet, I'm more inclined to talk about the things I don't like than the things I do. Human nature blah blah blah. I'm not actually the sort to keep paying for something I hate, though, certainly not $15 a month, so I'm not saying not to play the game, or that you're <insert insult related to intelligence here> for doing so. These are just some things that bug me in between giggling over cutting down a whole group of enemies with a single Death From Above.

The problem with writing about The Old Republic is that I end up writing about a lot of things that don't necessarily have anything to do with this specific game. Most of my complaints relate to the franchise as a whole, the world as seen by someone who's been doing a bit of worldbuilding herself lately, and some opinions about RP communities that will probably make some of my old WoW friends hate me. There ARE a few things that can be laid almost entirely at the feet of Bioware, but as I plunge through the gooey muck that is my thoughts most of what I find is completely out of their hands. Perhaps I'll make the things that ARE their fault a second post.

To start out with, there's something that I first came to understand when I was involved with a Star Wars tabletop RP group: The Star Wars universe has a mind-bogglingly unrealistic amount of cultural stagnation. I could understand that in a setting where FTL travel isn't possible, something where it took years and decades and centuries for ideas and technologies to get from one world to another. Star Wars is not that setting. Star Wars is a setting where people can just pop from planet to planet in, at the most, a couple days. And despite that, it's a setting where over 3,500 years of cultural and technological development has led to...slight changes in droid aesthetics? There were apparently more changes in the galaxy in 40 years following A New Hope than there were in 4,000 before it. This was likely due to the number of Expanded Universe writers looking to pee on some new territory in the post-Return of the Jedi setting by introducing massively game-changing things like the Yuuzhan Vong, but the point remains. I know that Star Wars never claimed to be hard sci-fi, that it's the poster child for science fantasy as a genre, but it still bugs me a bit.

The other thing that bugs me, the one that's going to make me a pariah, is that WoW has made me sick to death of large RP communities. I'm on an RP server in SWTOR, just as I was in WoW. In theory I love RP. Give me 5 people at a D&D table, I'm cool with that, I love it. Give me a couple dozen who all think they're super-important because they were Internet Famous in some other game, who tell other people that they're trolling if they state an opinion about RP they don't agree with, who get all bent out of shape if someone says something that shows an ignorance of some lore minutiae, and I will spend an evening playing by myself while I seethe over how much I hate them all. I love RP, but RP communities drive me up a wall. I'm just as bad, in some ways, and I'll admit that. I bristle at people RPing character types that I find out of place, overdone, or just plain annoying. I facepalm at bad grammar. And this, in my opinion, makes me just as unqualified to contribute to their community as they are unqualified to have a place in my everyday life. I used to love RP, but RPers killed it for me.

Now I'm going back to leveling my bounty hunter while I think about what I want to complain about in my next SWTOR post.