Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Toccata and Time Travel

“Hey, why don’t I just have Chip Davis give you a call?”

Me, trying to be nonchalant: “Sure, that’d work. Thanks!” >click.<

Me, at work at my desk, suddenly deepcore boring through memory to being 16, maybe 17, sitting in my then-girlfriend’s family room. Her dad’s in the music business, so they have a ridiculously awesome stereo system – which means basically that it’s the first CD player I’ve ever seen.

“Sit here,” she says, putting me in a spot on the floor a few yards in front of and directly between the speaker towers. “Close your eyes.”

I do.

I hear her padding across the thick carpet, then the buzzWHIRRwhine of the CD tray sliding open and shut.

I don’t hear a speaker hiss – this is a CD after all – but I hear the anticipatory hum of speakers awaiting sound.

And then there’s a laserstarlightcomputerkeyboard pattern dancing in one side of my head, all the way down behind my eardrum, and I’ve got this tense chill goosebump kind of thing because I’ve never heard anything like this. Before I realize it, this music is mirrored in my other ear, the melody suddenly with depth and texture and the sound’s converging inside my skull, and then comes this big pulsing bass and I’m HOOKED.

This is my first listen to “Toccata” by Mannheim Steamroller.

You may laugh now. I’ll wait. Done? Okay, now, remember: This was a time well before Steamroller became became a cheesy Christmas music empire, and there was something inherently geeky and computeriffic about this synth-powered stuff. Seriously. And I was sucked into the whole concept-album-layers-story thing, too, so this notion of songs as chapters and pieces of a bigger picture was a new and cool thing to me.

Within days, I’d gone to the mall and bought “Fresh Aire III” and those times when I was lucky enough to get the keys to our Cheverolet Eurosport, which boasted a cassette deck, I would blast “Toccata” with the windows down. I bought more tapes, and again, lest you doubt the appeal to a writer and nerd, consider (as Bill Nye would say) the following:

  • Fresh Aires I through IV are themed seasonal cycles.
  • Fresh Aire V is based on Johannes Kepler’s “Somnium” (The Dream), a 17th-century piece of science fiction, and includes liner notes and excerpts from the astronomer’s writings about moon-creatures and their civilization.
  • Fresh Aire VI goes to Greek mythology for inspiration, so I went reading about Orpheus and Sirens and the River Styx.
  • Fresh Aire VII, not surprisingly, is about the number 7 and includes, no kidding, a piece in which Chip corresponded specific musical notes to colors based on light frequencies related to sound frequencies. If that’s not geeky, I don’t know what is. Also, there’s a song based on the seven stars of the Big Dipper.

So now, 20-plus years after hearing “Toccata,” I’m at work my waiting for Mannheim Steamroller founder and composer Chip Davis to call.

When he does, we talk for a few minutes about growing up in Ohio, and the northwest corner of the state – I think I’ll send him a copy of “Crossing Decembers” – and then we covered the territory that was the purpose of the call in the first place.

As we were wrapping up, I had to tell him: “When I was about 16, I was dating this girl, and she put on “Toccata,” and it blew me away,” and about how for a long time, Steamroller was kind of my secret joy, musically speaking.

A couple nights back, I popped Fresh Aire III into the CD-ROM drive while I was writing. A lot of stuff’s gone by since that first listen, but I still got the goosebumps.

August 25, 2008 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, geek, Music, Ohio | Leave a comment

Something (good) must be in our water.

So, because John Scalzi’s Zoe’s Tale was coming out, I went to the library last week and checked out The Ghost Brigades. And justlikethat, I remembered that the Old Man’s War universe is one I simply don’t like leaving once I’ve stepped in for a visit. Every spare five minutes I had, I was gobbling up pages, like when the Harry Potter books were new, or like I did with M.T. Anderson’s Feed.

The same day, I picked up Tobias Buckell’s Crystal Rain. It took a little longer to get its hooks in me, but if I hadn’t left it at work on Friday afternoon, odds are I would’ve gotten far less done at home this weekend, because I’d be cranking through it, and I can see the next few months filled with Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose alternated with Scalzi’s The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale.

What’s also cool, of course, is that both of these fantastic writers live here in Ohio. Yeah, I know neither one of them was actually born here, but they’ve done some incredible work since they’ve been here, and Scalzi’s even peppered a fair amount of Buckeye State references into his writing. More awesomeness? They’re doing a co-op signing and appearance in Columbus on October, and dammit, it’s on a work night, but I might just have to make the road trip, because, I mean, come on.

August 24, 2008 Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, Fiction, geek, Ohio, Travel | Leave a comment

What Kind of A Day Has It Been?

Well, let’s see: Dragged my butt out of bed at 6:30 a.m. for an absolutely-worth-it run with my brother this morning. Early enough to catch that last bit of overnight coolness in the air, late enough to enjoy the sun coming up before it got hot.

Got home and popped online to find that Wil Wheaton blogged about an Atari article I submitted to the Geeks group on Propeller yesterday, and that was an awfully cool little surprise. It’s also got me thinking about another writing project, and that’s always a bonus.

And then, of course, there was the trip I made over to Canal Fulton after lunch. Windows down the whole way, looking at housing developments and schools where fields used to be, thinking about when I was 16 and used to date a girl over this way, singing along to "Rattle and Hum." Destination: The Toys Time Forgot – which became the first actual store to put a couple copies of "Collect All 21!" on the shelves, so anyone in the area should go over and see Dan’s ridiculously awesome collection of toys and comics and games and stuff and, oh, yeah, ask him if he’s got any more copies of that new book about growing up in the 1980s as a total Star Wars dork.

Before I left, I did my usual "If I Had A Million Dollars" wish-walk through the place, but on the way out, I saw that Dan had already put my book on the racks by the comics, the cover right there alongside the trades and graphic novels. It was a neat moment, and I considered taking a cell phone picture but decided not to. I still kinda wish I had.

Drove home howling to "Bullet the Blue Sky" – you never forget that monologue once you’ve got it down, y’know – and then switched things up with a little "Rough Night in Jericho" and "Boomtown."

A little laundry and a little "Sports Night," and then Jenn & I went out for a great casual Mexican dinner, and came home and wailed on some Guitar Hero.

So what kind of a day HAS it been?

The freaking awesome kind.

August 23, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Clone Wars – Sheesh, why the brouhaha?

Seriously – from Harry Knowles’ jump-the-gun tirade to the ‘F’ from Entertainment Weekly – I just don’t get the relentless bashing of "Clone Wars," which Adam and I took our respective kids to see this morning. I mean, based on the burn-Skywalker-ranch rhetoric I was hearing from some corners, I went into this thing really expecting something horrific. Like "Ferngully" bad.

And you know what? I was entertained. Sheesh: It was a freaking cartoon movie. Did it have the sweeping operatic feel of the original trilogy? Hell no. But then again, I wasn’t expecting it to – I mean, even the prequels themselves often struggled on that front. (And honestly – if you raked this movie over the coals because you went in with stratospheric expectations, well, come on.Where’ve you been?)  Did it feel a little like a big-screen adaptation of a television cartoon? Absolutely – but I’ll also say this: The visuals were impressive enough that I feel much better having spent my 12 bucks to see a Star Wars cartoon on the big screen than I would have if I’d spent that much to see "The Simpsons Movie" in the theater, and I liked that movie an awful lot.

Look – I’m a first-generation fan, and consider a good chunk of what that wrought: The Droids cartoon. The Ewoks cartoon. A Marvel comic series that stretched into pure absurd silliness. Not one but TWO Ewok-anchored television movies (and I swear, I read someone’s rant that said "Clone Wars" was worse than either of those, and you have GOT to be kidding me on that front because those didn’t even have spaceships or lightsabers, for the love o’Pete), and let’s not forget the Holiday Special.

I’m not saying everybody should go out and see "Clone Wars" because it kicks ridiculous ass and rejuvenates the saga and will make you weep with a recaptured childhood. It doesn’t. I’m just saying that if you’re upset at that sort of failing, maybe you need to reconsider what you’re expecting from a Star Wars cartoon.

Also, NO WAY does this belong below "The Battle for Endor."

August 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Shhhh… Be vewwy, vewwy quiet….

…we’re spotting the rare Winged Rhino:


(Yeah, I know the picture quality’s bad – I was going for a "Loch Ness Monster" sighting kind of feel. Okay, so really it’s just a cruddy cell phone shot and I didn’t have time to stop. Anyway, this thing’s in the Flats in Cleveland and I didn’t know what it was but thought it was kind of bizarre and cool anyway.)

August 11, 2008 Posted by | Ohio, Travel | Leave a comment

Why Dr. Horrible’s Awesomeness Makes Me a Little Sad about Star Wars

Okay – you’re being warned: I’m about to write about Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and yes, I’m going to talk about the ending, if not all the cool details along the way. So if you haven’t seen it, seriously: Just permalink this post and come back to it after you’ve had some time to watch. It’ll still be here when you get back. Heck, I’ll even post a photo below as filler just so no one’s eyes happen to catch a glimpse of DARTH VADER IS TOTALLY LUKE’S DAD AND RON WEASLEY’S THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE AND ROSEBUD WAS A LITTLE LOST KITTEN SO HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!

Okay, so anyway, here’s a 1980s ad for a Battlestar Galactica (original edition)-style New Warrior’s Jacket, and below that, no kidding, my spoiler-laden thoughts on Dr. Horrible and Star Wars.




Okay, so I finally had time last night to sit down and watch Dr. Horrible in its entirety and I absolutely loved it start to finish. (Sole drawback? I’ve had the opening lines of They Might Be Giants’ “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair” stuck in my head all day long.) I’d been itching to see this project since the teaser came out.

Now I can say it kicked ass and at the same time made me weep just a little for missed opportunities.

Why? First, know this: I write this as a complete Star Wars nut; as someone who clutched action figures by the handful as a kid; as someone who relished the lead-up to every movie release and who still loves double-bladed lightsabers, duels over lava pits and energy cores, space battles with sound effects, Jedi Mind Tricks, podraces, speeder chases and rocket-backpacked bounty hunters.

And yet after I finished watching Dr. Horrible, I realized I’d just seen in 42 minutes all the emotion and powerful storytelling I wanted so badly to find in the six-plus hours of Star Wars prequels.

See, it turns out that Dr Horrible’s story is the Anakin Skywalker “origin” tale I wanted. Yes, seriously.

Consider: From the start, we LIKE Dr. Horrible. Oh, sure, he CALLS himself evil, and he’s aiming to be accepted into the Evil League of Evil, but really, when it comes down to it, he’s just selfish and after a little power – and we get that. Stealing’s okay, but he hedges at killing. So even though we know he’s up to no good, he’s still just a damn likable guy.

What’d we get in Phantom Menace?  A likable kid who wants to fly ships and fix stuff, which is okay and all, but we never connect with him, really. I mean, during the podrace, sure, you’re rooting for him, but it’s strictly plot-related – we’ve got no emotional ties because we just met him.

I’ll grant you that George Lucas was working from behind a pretty big eight ball here: After all, going into Episode I, we already know that Anakin winds up going awfully bad somewhere down the line, and creating tension when you already know how the big picture turns out has got to be tough. Would Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog have worked as a prequel? I mean, if, say, Joss Whedon had given us a story about the character we see Dr. H become at the end of this film, and then provided the “Sing-Along Blog” short as a backstory? Hard to say. Still, so far: Dr. Horrible 1, Little Annie 0.

So, with the bad guy/protagonist (which, after all, is what Anakin should’ve been) in play, let’s look at the good guy-as-antagonist. Yep, I said it: Captain Hammer, after all is THE GOOD GUY, strictly speaking. Fighting crime, aiming for justice, etc., etc. All the stuff straight from the Heroes Handbook. Is he a dick about it? Well, yeah. And that’s what makes him such a great nemesis for Dr. Horrible: We can root for the bad guy if the good guy’s a tremendous jackass. Star Wars prequel parallel here? No less than the Jedi council. Examples:

ANAKIN: “Hey, guess what – found that Sith Lord you’ve been looking for through the last two movies.”

MACE WINDU: “Really? Sweet. Thanks a ton. Stay here.”


ANAKIN: “Seriously, Master Yoda – my dreams are all screwed up and I’m dealing with a bunch of pretty heavy demands physically and mentally and emotionally and everything, and really I’m still a hormonal teenager after all.”

YODA: “Let go of everything you fear to lose.”

ANAKIN: “You. Are. Freaking. KIDDING me. THAT’S THE BEST YOU CAN GIVE ME? Sonofa-”

And yet, the story structure of the Prequels has us pulling for the Jedi, even though they play a key role in creating Darth Vader. We just don’t root for Anakin the way we do Dr. Horrible, even though he’s got a Ph.D. in Horribleness.

Next up: Love interest and the tragic loss.

For starters, Dr. Horrible and Penny get more chemistry out of their introductory song in the laundromat than Anakin and Padme get anywhere. And again, for the viewer, it takes no effort at all to get caught up in Dr. H’s crush on Penny and her sweet interest – even when she catches those hints that “Billy” has a sinister side, she can’t help but feel something for him.

Oh, and when she starts dating dickhead Capt. Hammer? AWESOME. What better way to pull us fully onto Dr. Horrible’s side, after all, than to hear the Hammer bragging about bedding Penny? Come on – you freaking CHEERED when Dr. H. hit him with the freeze ray, and when the batteries died and Hammer was revived, your heart sank.

I kid you not: When Penny, dying, whispered “Capt. Hammer will save us,” it was about a hundred times more heartbreaking than anything in the climax of Episode III when Anakin’s making his own turn to the Dark Side. And Dr. Horrible’s final push over the edge into evil – sparked not only by Penny’s death but being forced to take the public blame when it was Hammer who pulled the trigger (while, it should be noted, attempting to gun down a helpless villain in cold blood – very unheroic) – I totally bought into that in a way that I never quite managed to with Anakin’s “I’m trying to save my wife from my bad dreams” turn.

So how’s it end? Dr. Horrible gets what he wants: Power. Recognition. Fear.

He gets almost everything he’s always wanted, and that’s the tragedy.

And dammit, he did it in two-and-two-thirds fewer movies than Anakin.

August 6, 2008 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Fiction, Film, geek, Music, Science, Web/Tech, Weblogs | 3 Comments

“Galactically Yours”

Galactically Yours

This Princess Leia photo is a signed publicity picture I got after writing to Carrie Fisher when I was probably 12 or 13. If you’re a sharp-eyed geek you might notice it’s tacked to a
Yoda cork board.

It’s blurry and washed out because it’s a screencap from an old 8mm home movie that I just posted (along with a few others) to the Growing Up Star Wars pool on Flickr, which has fast become a great big wonderful bucket of old-school goodness. It’s not just the Star Wars stuff, either – it’s the era captured in these pictures: Avocado floors, iron-on T-shirts, dark brown paneling and wicker room accents. I can just about taste my elementary school’s chocolate milk just looking at them. (I stopped drinking the chocolate in about third or fourth grade, I think, because something about it reminded me of the taste of raisins. Bleccch.)

They also echo a common thread running through much of the feedback I’m getting from "Collect All 21!" readers, which boils down to something along the lines of "It reminded me of a lot of my own Star Wars memories, some different and some the same."

That’s incredibly cool. Not as cool, maybe, as a birthday party given by Boba Fett, but cool nonetheless.

August 5, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Let’s see: Football nuts? Check.
Celtic nuts? Check.
Comic/sci-fi/Star Wars nuts? Check/check/check.

Seems I had a nutty kind o’weekend, and it rocked.
Saturday morning, up at 5:30 a.m. because I live in Canton Freaking Ohio and by God, when it’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Weekend, that’s what we do – and frankly, 5:30 a.m. probably put us among the late risers for the parade. Found a great spot sandwiched between the reserved bleacher seats – and I loveloveLOVE this time of year when I see people from San Diego and Virginia and Maryland and God knows where else all here in my town and so damn excited about it. My wife being a lifelong Washington Redskins fan was ecstatic this year, too, what with the team playing in the HOF game and having two enshrinees going into the hall. (Hey, I remember when Ozzie Newsome was inducted, so I totally get her goofydorkspazness over Darrell Green.) Seeing Art Monk get in was awfully cool, too, since he’s made the finalists’ short list every damn year, it seems. Heck, even I knew who he was by now. (You can check out a bunch of player shots – including the whole 2008 HOF class – in my Flickr photostream. Father Murphy’s in there, too for you 1980s Sunday night TV fans.)

So, we get home from the parade, drop our daughter off at a friend’s for an overnighter, and then Jenn & I hit the road to Dublin for the Irish Festival. (Have I mentioned that my wife’s Irish? And the friends we were staying with, too? Me, I can only claim part-Welsh don’t think I could pull off the whole unbifurcated garment look. (In fact, I’m mostly German, and we invented leather freaking pants, so clearly you don’t get much more bifurcated than that.)

Lots of good Irish music, though – The Hooligans and Neck were bands we caught and enjoyed – nifty art, neat dance, and the goodness of brewed-just-once-a-year Dublin Irish Festival Stout. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous night.

Sunday morning, up and at ’em for the Buckeye Comic Con. Jenn came along, and we got there just about 9:45 a.m. Organizer/owner Jeff Harper couldn’t have been more friendly & helpful, and I wound up having a whole table. It was weird at first because I felt kind of like the new kid in class: The other guest writers and artists all seemed to know each other, and while they had bunches of different projects and art and stuff, I had a table and nine copies of a single book, along with my business cards and some flyers and a display board.

Things were a little slow in the morning, but around lunchtime, we started chatting more with the people around us, particularly the smart and funny Molly Durst (who also, I noticed, was great about encouraging every young girl who stopped by, and that was fantastic) J.D. Larabee, and Sean Forney. I got some really helpful tips and encouragement about what shows and cons tend to be good for small/independent presses and local artists and writers, and they all made Jenn and me feel very welcome. (Jenn being out of her element and all, I was surprised how into the other indie projects she got, and I loved seeing that side of her.) We wound up swapping some small stuff with Molly & J.D., too: Jenn got a witch-and-cat print from Molly, I nabbed two of J.D.’s neat Star Wars caricatures.

If it were a trip solely about the bottom line, it could’ve been better, though I did sell a handful of "Collect All 21!" copies, and at least a couple people wanted to check out the online excerpts.The guy who won my donated copy of CA21 happened to be a Star Wars fan and seemed pretty psyched about it when he asked me to sign it, so I hope to hear what he thinks. Among the neat people who wandered up to my table: a retired news
photographer, a 21-year-old die-hard Star Wars fan, a former
convention-circuit booking agent and several other awfully nice people. Meeting them and the other guests and geeking out for the day made it worthwhile.

The big payoff, though, was at the end of the day, when Jenn and I got in the car. She was just sitting there looking at me with this grin.

"What’re you smiling at?"

"I am so. Very. Proud of you. And seeing  you here with your book, excited about it and talking to people, it makes me forget all those nights I huffed because you were upstairs sitting at the computer."

It’s been almost 30 hours since she said that, and remembering it still choked me up a little just now.

We drove home through a golden afternoon between high cornfields and stopped for Dairy Queen along the way.

August 4, 2008 Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, Sports, Travel | 1 Comment


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