Fungible Convictions, a new website for the artsy-indie crowd (run by my good friend and co-worker Andy Whitacre), has published my review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Watch for more of my writing on FC soon–including my official review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and possibly a short story.

On a related note, I’ll begin the major writing on my novel–now tentatively titled The Shivering of the Gate–this week.


Dark Horse has released a four page preview of Mike Mignola’s upcoming Hellboy miniseries “The Island.” It’s the first Hellboy comic (not counting B.P.R.D.) since the movie came out (the last miniseries, “The Third Wish,” was published way back in 2002).

The pages are beautiful–Mignola’s style continues to evolve. Back when I first encountered Mignola’s art (in a Wolverine graphic novel titled The Jungle Adventure–it was much better than it sounds), I loved his sharply-defined, uncluttered style, but he was still using a lot more lines and detail than he does now. There’s more grace in his artwork now, with its smooth curves, inky shadows, and the crescent-shape of Hellboy’s head.

Mignola has promised that the story will deliver a smorgasboard of information about Hellboy’s identity, and in particular, what the Right Hand of Doom is (my guess: it’s the hand of an archangel, or perhaps a god–maybe Hephaestus).


Given the name of this site, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point this out:
Jaws: the Videogame

To my knowledge, there’s only been one other JAWS-based videogame: a 1987 Nintendo game based on the terrible JAWS: The Revenge (which actually had the tagline “This Time, It’s Personal”–on a side note, I’m curious whether this is the origin of that particular action-film bromide). To be honest, I loved the NES game as a kid, but there’s no question it was pretty inane.

You played a diver who was trying to kill Jaws, but most of the game involved shooting crabs and jellyfish to collect conch shells. Jaws only showed up once in a blue moon–and the sad thing was, if you swam to the very top of the waves, he couldn’t hit you.

It looks like the makers of this new game are doing it right–the only way a JAWS-based game could be fun, really: you play the shark. It’s your job to destroy as many boats and eat as many people as possible. It seems like an aquatic version of Grand Theft Auto, minus the hookers (unless a few of them are on vacation, I guess).

The game features a number of locations from the film and its sequels, and in the game trailer I think I saw the Universal Studios ride being destroyed.

The game comes out in August and is pre-selling for only $40, so it sounds like one of those games that’s priced just about right–it’s no Halo 2. But it will allow me to play out one of my childhood fantasies–that of being a huge, man-eating shark.

What, doesn’t every kid dream about that at some point?


Robert Sheckley, one of science fiction’s most beloved elders, is very ill in Russia, and is having problems with medical insurance. Friends and fans have set up a Paypal donation drive at:

It just goes to show, no matter how great and respected a writer becomes, wealth is never a sure bet (Stephen King notwithstanding).


The acronym for Revenge of the Sith is “ROTS.” I just wanted to point that out.

So I saw Lucas’s latest tour de Force. For the record, I hadn’t planned to see it for at least a few weeks, being entirely unenthusiastic about the prospect. But as it turned out, my girlfriend was seeing it (not necessarily voluntarily) with the rest of her lab at grad school on opening day; and since I would have found it annoying for her to have seen the film and me not to, I decided to get it over with.

My conclusion? The line I’ve been giving people is, “I don’t like the storyline Lucas went with for the prequels, but if they’d all been like this movie, I wouldn’t hate him so much.” Faint praise, I know. The dialogue is painful–Lucas’s ear isn’t tin, it’s titanium. Several scenes–in particular, anything between star-crossed lovers Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padme (Natalie Portman)–consist entirely of the worst, hoariest cliches in the book.

But there are a number of exciting scenes, and I enjoyed Ian McDiarmid’s hammy-but-effective portrayal of Palpatine, the chancellor and Sith Lord who would be Emperor. But before he can get there, he has to seduce Anakin to the Dark Side, which he does in fairly unconvincing fashion (but for that, I blame the writing and portrayal of Anakin, rather than anything to do with Palpatine).

I’m just glad this whole prequel mess is over. Now, if the united Star Wars Nation can just convince Darth Lucas to release a “Star Wars Classic Edition” DVD set, consisting of the same versions of the original films as seen in the pre-Special Edition VHS set that came out around 1995-6 (or the laserdiscs from the same era), I’ll be all set.

Personally, I’ve always felt that Lucas made a number of wrong decisions from the very beginning. First, the prequels have no Han Solo character. Han was the most human character in the prequels, the Everyman who had no supernatural powers (a la Luke) and wasn’t royalty (a la Leia). He was easy to identify with, and was played by Harrison Ford, an actor with a gift for playing a regular guy in strange worlds. But most of the major characters in the prequels are Jedi–that is, sorcerers and superheroes–so we can hardly identify with them.

Worse, the ostensible protagonist of the films is Anakin Skywalker, a character who, as we know ahead of time, will grow up to be an intergalactic Hitler. I think this was a big mistake. It would have been much wiser to make Obi-Wan Kenobi the hero of the films, and use Anakin as a buddy-turned-antagonist. The prequels should have been about Obi-Wan’s failure, not Palpatine’s boring political machinations and Anakin’s predictable, yet still unconvincing seduction to the Dark Side.

Then there’s Yoda. In the original films, Yoda serves as the archetype of the wise old master, the hermit who lives out in the middle of nowhere. The idea with that sort of character is this: if your instructors have taught you all they can, but think you show promise of more, they send you off to the 900-year-old hermit.

Fine. But what Lucas is asking me to believe is that at the spring chicken age of 880, the Aged Master isn’t out on the mountaintop, but serving as Dumbledore in the School for the Force-Sensitive. I don’t buy it–enjoyable as the Yoda fighting scenes were, I don’t buy it.

Worse, the prequels are loaded with coincidences. It seems everyone in the universe has met R2D2 and C-3PO, despite Kenobi’s line in Star Wars that he doesn’t “recall ever owning a droid” (a line that is now yet another lie, or at the very least, a misleading truth–he knows who Artoo and Threepio are, unless he’s had his memory wiped as well). Oh, and…

(spoiler warning)

…Chewbacca’s met Yoda. Right.

(end spoiler)

As I’ve gotten older, I have to admit I’ve become a bit less enamoured of Star Wars as a whole, including the original films. Back in 1999, science fiction author David Brin wrote an article called “Star Wars despots vs. Star Trek populists” which I think makes some pretty good points (though, to be fair, I’m not as fond of his Lord of the Rings critique).

Star Wars has been called “science fantasy”–but it’s mostly just fantasy. As several reviewers have pointed out, we’re dealing with a civilization that can cross galaxies in days, but apparently doesn’t possess ultrasound technology. For all its galactic politics and incredible technology, the world of the Republic is no more evolved than that of ancient Rome–and no more morally complex than a Saturday morning cartoon.

That’s fine for a series of fun movies intended to evoke the spirit of the old matinee serials (and you’ll note no one ever harps on the Indiana Jones movies). But for something that has grown to such enormous, bloated cultural significance as the Star Wars franchise, even a fan like me has to admit it’s a bit disconcerting.

idee fixe

Never let it be said that I don’t provide a play-by-play of the life of the wanna-be writer.

My recent submission to a fantasy magazine was rejected. The editor’s reasons were sound, and I have no qualms. However, his comments have, once again, made me question the merits of my project and my writing as a whole. When it comes to fantasy writing–at least, traditional fantasy, i.e. fantasy set in a time of primitive technology–my mind may be hopelessly muddled by genre conventions and cliches.

Many writers tend to degrade their own writing, while secretly thinking it’s much better than a lot of what they read. I’ve never been sure either way. I’ve gotten praise and a good helping of criticism for my writing. The one thing I can be sure of is that I simply haven’t done enough writing, and certainly haven’t paid my dues by submitting continuously and involving myself in the industry.

Complicating things is my mild tendency toward obsessiveness. I’ll often become intensely interested in a topic or genre, start some long epic–often a novel–in that genre, then lose interest months, weeks, or even days down the line. I have at least five or six unfinished semi-novels, all in the 50-100 page range. I almost invariably return to the interest later, but I have difficulty juggling two interests at once. However, if I can sustain the interest long enough to complete a project, the results tend to be fairly good.

I suppose there are many people who have this problem to some degree, but I find it hard to be in, say, a science fiction mindset, then casually switch to fantasy or horror. I tend to prefer to be immersed in one or another. I’ve worked on this over the years, but it still happens (on a more modest level).

I wonder whether there are other people out there who struggle with this, particularly writers. I emailed a well-known author recently, who works in many different genres, who told me he can work on a fantasy novel, a science fiction novel, and a superhero comic script in the same day.

I just can’t do that. At least, not yet. But we writers are an idiosyncratic bunch. Some are nonstop workaholics who can write in a dozen different genres, others put out one book every five years (if that). I suppose, for me, the trick will be learning to harness the obsessiveness and manipulate it properly (which I’ve learned to do somewhat), rather than just trying to fight it.


It’s always fun to learn a new word that means exactly what you were looking for. I was working on a story today and needed to describe an old man’s arm as “leathery.” But I didn’t like the word “leathery”–it seems cliched, and besides, I was already using it enough to describe real leather objects in the story. That, and whenever I read the word “leathery” now, I can’t help but mentally associate it with an essay in Michael J. Nelson’s Mind Over Matters, in which he uses the adjective to refer to the appearance of certain private parts of very old men in gym locker rooms.

So I checked the thesaurus and came up with “coriaceous.” It’s worth noting that this word is so obscure that Microsoft Word didn’t recognize it, though any dictionary I consulted had it. So I went with it. Yes, it will probably send more than one reader looking for their dictionary, but as a reader I always enjoy meeting a new word (I picked up “coolth” from Fritz Leiber, who used it as an alternative to “warmth”), so hopefully my readers will feel the same. It doesn’t evoke quite the same immediate visual imagery as “leathery,” but I’m not too concerned about that in this particular description.

The story I’m working on is a short fantasy tale for a contest. The characters in it are new, but I haven’t yet decided whether it’s set in Atreval or not. If I do decide to set it in Atreval, I may set in a period before the events in Tales of Atreval–perhaps long before. But as of now, I’m thinking I’ll leave it ambiguous in this particular story and make the decision later.

This has made me realize that I need to flesh Atreval out even more. I’ve been thinking I could get away with minimal world-building, as Leiber did with Nehwon in his Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories. But he wrote his stories for individual publication in the 1950s and ’60s, before huge fantasy novels became the norm in the post-Tolkien era.

The first thing is a map. A friend of mine drew one years ago, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on it, so it looks like I’m going to have to put pen to paper myself.

What I’m reading: I finished reading the first three stories in The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, the first volume in Del Rey’s excellent collection of Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales. I’ve picked up the style of them, as I needed to, and I may take a break and move on to something a bit longer that I haven’t read before–perhaps Gene Wolfe’s Shadow and Claw, or Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana. I’ve recently started taking suggestions from posters on the discussion forums at I’ve heard good things about Steven Erikson’s “Malazon Book of the Fallen” series, though I’m hesitant to start another epic until I’ve at least finished the published volumes of George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice” books.

It’s also quite possible I may just re-read E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros.


I finished re-reading The Hobbit. It’s as good a read as it was when I was seven and my father read it to me aloud. As a book that was clearly written for young children, it’s always been an easier read than Lord of the Rings, particularly for non-Tolkien fans (though I recently came across an online discussion between Tolkien fans who said they didn’t like reading The Hobbit).

Whenever I re-read a beloved book, I tend to focus on things I paid less attention to in previous reads. This time around, I paid close attention to the development of the plot and Bilbo’s character. It really is an excellent children’s book, as the child-like Bilbo, who prefers to hide from the world in his little hole, goes out into the Wild and learns how to take care of himself. On that level, it works as well as anything by C.S. Lewis or Roald Dahl (or J.K. Rowling).

After writing Lord of the Rings–a novel ultimately geared more toward adults than young children–Tolkien went back and revised The Hobbit to better fit with the mythology he’d created. I suspect that when he first wrote The Hobbit in 1937, he thought of Gandalf as a traditional wizard–that is, an old (human) man with some magical powers. As The Hobbit is essentially an extended fairy tale, it makes sense that Gandalf’s role is primarily to get the hero out the door and meddle here and there when needed, but no more; it’s Bilbo’s adventure, not Gandalf’s.

Gandalf plays a somewhat similar role in Lord of the Rings, but he’s much more active. During this re-reading of The Hobbit, I couldn’t help but view the story from the perspective of the characters as I knew them from LR. From that viewpoint…what the hell did Gandalf think he was doing? He knows how dangerous Smaug is; Smaug is arguably more dangerous (perhaps much more dangerous) than any balrog, and yet Gandalf allows thirteen Dwarves and a hobbit wander blindly into the dragon’s lair?

There are really only two ways to view the situation. First, you can think of it in terms of Lord of the Rings, in which case Gandalf is apparently a rather cold (and sardonic) individual who thinks little of sending a few Dwarves and a hobbit to their doom. Or (and this is my interpretation) you accept that “the tale grew in the telling” of Lord of the Rings, and that The Hobbit has to be evaluated on its own as a children’s book, and not a true precursor of LR. The Hobbit is a fairy tale, while Lord of the Rings is an epic.

Okay, so those aren’t exactly new observations. But I found it amusing trying to figure out a way for the Gandalf of LR to have sent Thorin and Company on their way without seeming like a stone cold bastard. (Yes, I know he had pressing business with helping boot Sauron from Mirkwood, but it’s still awfully convenient, in terms of plot, for getting the all-powerful wizard out of the party.)

I was going to move on to reading LR next, but I need to re-read some of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories first, for writing purposes. After that, I have a class, so no more pleasure reading until July…and at that point, I don’t know. I’ve been wanting to re-read E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros (which I highly recommend to high fantasy fans, though be warned, the diction is almost Middle English), or read the second book in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series. Who knows? I’ve also got a book of Karl Wagner’s Kane stories I haven’t read yet…


In college, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf–or more specifically, on what happens to the narrative structure of the poem when it is adapted as Michael Crichton’s novel Eaters of the Dead, and then when that novel is adapted into the film The 13th Warrior.

The 13th Warrior was a huge flop, and so far, Troy, King Arthur, Alexander, and Kingdom of Heaven haven’t exactly been doing gangbusters. Of the huge sword-wielding epics, only Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings have warranted this slavish studio attention to these sort of films.

Now there are no less than two Beowulf films coming out this year. One, which supposedly comes out in October, I hadn’t heard anything about until today. Beowulf and Grendel stars Gerard Butler and Sarah Polley, so it isn’t necessarily going to be a B-film. From the photos and information on the site, it looks like it could be good. On the other hand, after a look through the site’s discussion forums, it looks like there may have been some significant changes to the story, so we’ll see. Having tried my hand at adaptating literary works to film, I have sympathy for the screenwriter.

It also seems there’s some question whether the film will even be released in the U.S.–here’s hoping. It may only get a limited release, but fortunately, I live in Boston, so there’s a good chance it will play here.

But that’s not all. Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman are also working on a script for a Beowulf film, currently scheduled for release in 2007. There are a lot of rumors floating around on the Internet, so I’m not sure what’s true and what isn’t, but allegedly the film will be animated.

Beowulf’s been having a pretty good run lately. I’m very fond of the “HBO Animated Epic” version of the story–a half-hour animated short that features Joseph Fiennes and Derek Jacobi as voices, among others.

I still may try my hand at some Beowulf-related writing, someday. Technically, I already have–but good luck tracking that down.

As for all these other films–why did Lord of the Rings and Gladiator succeed where the others failed? Well, in the case of Gladiator, I think Russell Crowe–an actor at the height of his popularity–helped an awful lot. Also, the story, while not exactly Shakespeare, had a lot of visceral, entertaining aspects–it was essentially the modern equivalent of watching real gladiatorial combat.

As for Lord of the Rings, well, I think those films are their own deal entirely. They’re well-made films with a great cast; they deserve their acclaim without need for talking about trends or audience psychology.

As for Troy and King Arthur–I think these films did themselves a disservice by neglecting the mythological or supernatural elements of the stories they were based on. Excalibur did well in 1981, so it’s not as if audiences don’t want to watch Arthurian films. As for Troy, I think avoiding the mythological elements was a bit cowardly on the part of the filmmakers. They wanted to make one of those sword-and-sandal epics from the fifties and sixties, and that’s exactly what they did–made a sword-and-sandal epic from the fifties and sixties. Being honest to the supernatural element, or finding an interesting and compelling way of making those elements work and be relevant to modern viewers, would have made for a braver and more contemporary adaptation. Just my two cents.


I’ve taken down “One of a Hundred” because I may be submitting it to some magazines for publication soon. I apologize for all the vanishing content–lord knows the site needs more. I’ll try to fill the space with some other work–perhaps an article, or a review or two.

One of the magazines I’m submitting to is Flashing Swords, an excellent online magazine of sword and sorcery. I highly recommend it to fans. In just two issues they’ve published some great stories, including long-forgotten reprints of stories by early pulp author Harold Lamb.

If you’re a fan of the genre, be sure to check out their anthology of sword and sorcery, Lord of Swords, which includes stories from Tanith Lee and E.E. Knight.

I’m in the midst of re-reading The Hobbit, to be followed by LOTR. It’s been more than three years since I last read them, and I find reading LOTR to be a rejuvenating experience. I always find something new in them; and while Tolkien wasn’t the best writer stylistically, his unlimited imagination and the Zusammenhang of Middle-earth (the way every aspect of it is painstakingly detailed and defined, such as language, geography, history, and even race relations) is endlessly inspiring. Few (if any) fantasy writers have been as talented at (or as obsessed with) world-building as Tolkien. And there are a few great characters in there, particularly Gandalf and Gollum.

When I read the novels, I always use the old Ballantine paperbacks my father bought me when I was in high school. I own nicer, collectible editions, but for reading purposes I find the paperbacks as comfortable as a worn-in pair of shoes.

In high school, I also played Middle-earth: The Wizards, the original collectible card game based on Tolkien’s work. The game had excellent mechanics and challenging gameplay, and it was a lot of fun. I was the undisputed master of it within our group (mostly because I enjoyed it the most and collected a lot of cards, including the One Ring). Best of all, it had beautiful artwork from all the big names in Tolkienian art. Many of those cards informed my mental vision of the people, places, and things in the novel. I’ve still got all my cards, and sometimes I wish I could find someone to play with again.

I remember my favorite trick involved a card called “Sacrifice of Form,” which allowed you to sacrifice your wizard to defeat some terrible threat–usually a Nazgul, though I think I actually used it on the Balrog once or twice. You received a load of marshalling points for beating the monster, then got to revive your wizard on a later turn–and he would be more powerful than before. It’s analogous to the Gandalf the Gray/Gandalf the White transformation from the novel.

Another interesting thing about the game was that it included two wizards not mentioned in the novel, Alatar and Pallando, known as the “Blue Wizards” (and actually mentioned in some of Tolkien’s writings, such as Unfinished Tales). I often used them just for the novelty of it.

Unbelievably, the website that I consulted for information about the game waaaay back in 1996 is still online: Middle Earth: the Wizards Guide.

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