Thursday, July 31, 2014

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind, Issues #5 & #6, by Dark Horse Comics

Okay, first off I want to apologize for the relative lateness of this particular post. Due to the regular internet blackouts I've been suffering, I just plain forgot when the final issue of Leaves on the Wind came out. On top of that due to one thing and another I wasn't able to upload a new post until very recently. Rest assured, dear readers, that the Kalpar is out there fighting the good fight. Just mostly without internet.

Secondly, I want to state that I was rather disappointed with this series as a whole. You may recall that early on I voiced some concerns because it seemed like they were rehashing old ideas that had been utilized in the series rather than introducing new ideas and expanding the 'Verse. Now I can understand a desire to establish a sense of continuity with the series and movie, reusing old ideas, old characters, and old situations, but honestly I don't think it was necessary to make a good comic. You already have the continuity of the characters and the ship from the original series and as readers we want to know what happens to Serenity and her crew. And I think I'd like to see new and exciting adventures for her as well. And going in new directions is probably the real strength for the comics. For example, probably my favorite Serenity comic is Float Out, a one-shot story that shared stories of Wash's past as told by three different people who knew him. Float Out preserved continuity with the character of Wash, but introduced new aspects of his past. Granted, we already knew that Wash was a great pilot and saw that quite a few times, but we get to see how Wash forged his reputation while still being that funny, goofy, pretty nice guy that we know and love. Of course, this isn't guaranteed to work. I don't much care for The Shepherd's Tale (BECAUSE IT MAKES NO SENSE!) But there was at least an attempt to build the 'Verse up.

The biggest problem I have with Leaves on the Wind is that it squanders its potential as a story. In the first issue, you get a feeling of how very big things have become. Mal and company can no longer stay out of the way of the Alliance because their names are on everybody's lips. The New Resistance waxes in strength and the foundation of the Alliance begins to crumble. Personally I was really interested in seeing the aftereffects of the revelation regarding the Reavers and how the Alliance sought to maintain control. But the story....doesn't go there. It may start out big, but it contracts and becomes very, very small, focusing once again on Malcolm and his crew while the Alliance disappears into the background. The story starts with Mal trying to lie low, and ends with him trying to lie low.

Which actually leads to my other frustration is that things don't change terribly much over the course of the comics. Yes, things happen, but they don't really build the 'Verse in a meaningful way. Bea joins Serenity's crew, but Bea received so little development of a character in this miniseries that she could be replaced by a cardboard cutout with no real changes. Mal decides he's going to start fighting back against the Alliance rather than running away. A decision which he had already made (quite dramatically I might add) in the film and apparently forgot in the intervening nine months. Finally we get a new villain who's determined to capture River. This does set up a new conflict for what I'm assuming will be the inevitable next set of comics, but aside from the most basic details of the new villain we don't really know much about them. We don't even get a name. And I get the feeling like we're still stuck story-wise and we can't break out of the larger arc of “River on the run from the Alliance”. Which the movie was supposed to tie up in a nice neat bow. It all feels very frustrating.

As a die-hard Browncoat I'll probably find myself sucked into the next series of comics that come out, but my expectations are going to stay fairly low. It just seems like the comic creators can't really strike out in a new direction with the series, even in its new format. Possibly the new villain will make things a little more interesting, but I'm not optimistic. But here's hoping. Keep 'em flying.

- Kalpar  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Adventures of Krinsblag: Robot House!

These past few days have been a bit of a blur, what with the binge drinking and ultimate frisbee on the campus quad. However, I did attend a few classes with Meda and learned a few things from Tandem. Well, and a few through independent research, but some progress is better than none at all. We had noticed a rather annoying amelodic chiming of bells that occurred at random points with no real rhyme or reason coming from the second floor of Pathfinder U. Meda asked Tandem and he gave some bullshit answer about celebrating a new artifact being discovered by the Pathfinders, but Whitmore claimed it was far too often for artifacts of true importance. I decided to go upstairs after class and investigate the bells, poking a couple of them to see what they did. Nothing terribly interesting happened until a man appeared, carrying a rapier. I tried to pump as much information out of him, but with no real success, resulting in me getting dragged off by campus police. Whitmore, however, noticed my plight and was able to sneak up and look at the bells later on, and was able to figure out the order they rang in, as well as noticing it seemed to activate a portal that lead to what we assumed was the Pathfinder vault.

As all of this was going on Soma managed to break into Tandem's office and stole a few items, including Tandem's Wayfinder, which Festivus had told us allowed Pathfinders to access the vaults. Soma decided to also experiment with the Wayfinder, putting different Ioun stones into the slot resulting in interesting effects. But when Whitmore put a stone in the slot the Wayfinder exploded, which, needless to say, was not according to plan. Soma was able to craft up a replacement Wayfinder, but held off on putting it in Tandem's office.

In class the next day Tandem was a little....irritated to say the least. He went into a very long lecture about responsibility with magical items and demanded to know who had stolen his Wayfinder, which was now missing. As Soma had decided class was beneath him, he wasn't there to return the Wayfinder, so we got treated to a boring-ass and mostly made-up lecture about a poem that totally wasn't the secret key to opening the vault. Except it was. Man, they have terrible security. After class Soma had managed to put the replacement Wayfinder in Tandem's office, and we decided we should try to steal Venture Captain Amavor's Wayfinder next. I gathered a couple of my bros for a frisbee game and “accidentally” threw the frisbee through Amavor's office window. As expected, Amavor stormed out of his office, swearing and leaving the door unlocked behind him. This allowed Soma to slip into Amavor's office and quickly search for Amavor's Wayfinder while Meda kept lookout and Whitmore kept an eye on Amavor. Soma didn't manage to find anything we could use, but Whitmore noticed Amavor kept his Wayfinder on him at all times, meaning we'd have to obtain one from someone else if we hoped to be successful.

After everyone had left campus for the day, we broke back into the building and rung the bells in the proper sequence, opening a portal. Soma went through and performed a quick reconnaissance of the vault, confirming that we needed a Wayfinder to even begin looting the hell out of this place. Unsure what our next move should be, we decided to wait until tomorrow and see what the day would bring.

Tandem had found Soma's replacement Wayfinder, but informed us that despite it being a very good Wayfinder it was not in fact his because it lacked the appropriate clearance codes. This did not, for whatever reason, stop him from giving us each our own Wayfinder to mess with. (Granted, these were without any security clearance so I suppose the threat was rather low.) By a random coincidence the combination of my Ioun stone and the Wayfinder I was assigned resulted in me being able to use disguise self at will, albeit limited to only three disguises. Seeing an excellent opportunity I chose Amavor as one of my disguises, as well as that Corrister fucker, and a generic nondescript disguise. I briefly considered getting into all sorts of shenanigans, but my party members suggested I use my Amavor disguise to get Hewron's Wayfinder. I will say it was a little dicey considering I'm not the best at convincing people, but I managed to get Hewron's Wayfinder by admitting there had been a security breach with the vault. Hewron said he would be keeping a closer eye on the vault and would let me (i.e. Amavor) know if he noticed anything strange. I think if we're going to pull this job off we're going to have to hit the vault tonight, before Hewron gets even more suspicious.

- Krinsblag 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chronicles of the Black Company, by Glen Cook

This week I'm taking a look at Chronicles of the Black Company, once again an anthology, in this case collecting the first three novels of the Black Company series, The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose, in one volume. For my readers who are unaware, the Black Company follows the adventures of a group of mercenaries, the titular Black Company. The first novel has the Company travel across the ocean to far northern lands and enter the employ of the Lady, a powerful sorceress who is attempting to crush a growing rebellion against her rule. As such these books are told more from the “bad guys” perspective, sort of like if there was a book that talked purely about Tolkien's orcs. It's an interesting take on a fantasy setting and definitely adds a twist to the pretty worn out monomyth we're all familiar with by now.

Unfortunately, the first book is pretty rough overall and it's not until the second book that I felt things started to improve. The books are (mostly) told from the perspective of Croaker, physician and historian for the Black Company. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Glen Cook cannot write first-person narration well. I say this because while the first book is written entirely in first-person, the second book alternates between first and third-person and I definitely thought the third-person sections were much better. By the third book Cook has gotten much better and the first-person segments are much more readable, which is good because Cook seems determined to keep this a largely first-person narrative. It just seems a shame that a story could potentially be made better simply by shifting the perspective. Fortunately Cook seems to have gotten a handle on first-person narration, which hopefully will show in later books.

Another issue that I found myself lamenting throughout the first book was that it suffered extensively from telling the reader rather than showing the reader. For example, the imperial forces get pushed back by the rebels and seem to constantly be doing a fighting retreat. This is in spite of the fact that Croaker keeps telling us the Black Company meets nothing but success on its campaigns. We're told the Black Company succeeds, sometimes shown that it does, and then told that they're retreating, and shown parts of that. I was wondering what the heck was going on to make the imperials loose ground on every front like that. Did they simply not have enough resources? Was the cost of victory so high as to make continued campaigns impossible? Was imperial occupation so harsh that it drove the population solidly into the rebel camp? TELL ME WHAT'S GOING ON!! I desperately wanted to know more about the bigger picture, and Croaker isn't just a private soldier so he's privy to at least some of the information and would be able to enlighten us, but he doesn't.

My other real big issue with show don't tell was when Croaker kept saying that the rebels were just as bad, if not worse than the imperials. I had been informed by the venerable TV Tropes that this series operates on the premise that a typical fantasy story like Lord of the Rings is white-washing propaganda written for the heroes' side and Black Company serves as a more honest account from the “villains'” perspective. And the book sort of touches on that when the Lady asks Croaker to record a mostly impartial version of events so she isn't maligned by future historians, but we're never shown how the rebels are worse than the imperials. And I think that would make for a really interesting novel. Rebels that ruthlessly execute any imperial prisoners they take, as well as execute loyal imperial sympathizers. Rebels that are so poorly organized and extremely mismanaged that they actually make the economic situation much worse for the common person who thrived under the stability of the empire. Stuff like that. But instead we're just told by Croaker, who being in imperial service isn't exactly an impartial observer. I feel like this was an excellent opportunity for Cook that was not fully utilized.

I will admit that in my own way, I've come to care about the characters by the end of the third book and so I'm most likely going to come back. Hopefully the series will get better as Cook's writing skills improve and maybe there will be more fleshing out. I'm at least hopeful.

- Kalpar

Monday, July 21, 2014

Adventures of Krinsblag: Did We Just Join the Pathfinders?

Today has been an....interesting day, to say the least. Not necessarily "Oh gods, oh gods, we're all going to die!" interesting so much as "What in the Nine Hells just happened?" interesting. Although it may turn into the former kind of interesting soon enough depending on what will happen.

To start off, when we finally woke up from our epic bout of binge drinking the night before, Whitmore was still far too hungover and was unable to head into what passed for a town around here, so we went off to sell and exchange loot for other useful items. We spent a couple of hours haggling in the marketplace, getting a few items that Soma couldn't craft himself and obtaining the various ingredients Soma required to make a couple of Handy Haversacks and odds and ends. Although I was rather sad to let go of the manta ray cloak, I figured we wouldn't be near the ocean for a while and it wouldn't be terribly useful. Alas, Manta Lord, we hardly knew ye.

While we were in the marketplace we asked around for Hewron and Tandem, a couple of old Pathfinder buddies of Festivus. Festivus told us they may be able to help us with our investigations and they were still involved with the Pathfinders. Everyone pointed us to the giant manor house next to the adventurer encampment which had been converted into the local Pathfinder headquarters. As Soma was determined to get started on crafting right away, Meda and I headed directly to the Pathfinder building. Granted, without any sort of plan in mind, but that's kind of usual operating procedure for us at this point.

Meda and I entered the atrium of the Pathfinder building and were confronted with a long line for the opportunity to talk with a minor clerk of the Guild. There were some doors which appeared unguarded and I briefly considered just walking through like I owned the place, but the level of security made that seem like a bad idea so we opted for the bureaucratic route. After what seemed an interminable wait we finally were able to approach one of the clerks managing the line and explained that we were here to see Tandem and we had an appointment with him. Amazingly they believed us and lead us to a waiting room.

I was a little worried at one point because Meda noticed the venture captain that sent us down into No Fun passed by and checked a stack of paperwork that some of our documents had disappeared into, but fortunately he seemed to not notice us. We were interrogated by a couple of Pathfinder thugs, and I did a pretty poor performance. I'm still a little worried that they might confiscate some of the equipment we rightfully stole because of a technicality with the contract. Worst comes to worst we'll blame it on the druid and claim all the equipment we have came from Whitmore. (In a rare flash of foresight I gave them the fake name of Dr. J. Hollcroft for Whitmore. Hopefully Whitmore will be able to use this to his advantage.)

After Meda and I were interrogated, we finally met Tandem, who was very friendly and a very nice chap who was extremely helpful when I told him we were friends with Festivus, and directed us to follow him back into the Pathfinder building in the north wing. What happened next was very...strange to say the least. Festivus had us then introduce ourselves to a large group of people wearing Pathfinder robes and declared us to be new students in his class. What followed was a fairly fluffy lecture about the Pathfinders and ended with Tandem telling us to come back tomorrow for class at two o'clock. As Meda and I were confused as hell by all of this we talked with Tandem after class and discovered that we had inadvertently joined the Pathfinders. We also discovered that Tandem seems to have a short-term memory problem which means he probably won't be terribly much help to us in the long run if we have to keep introducing ourselves. In the short term, though, he was able to tell us that Hewron would be located in the library on the south side of the building and he would be able to help us find more information about the Sword of Chellan over there. After obtaining some student ID's for Meda, myself, and the rest of the party, we headed back into the tent city to find Soma and get his help with the library.

Soma was initially mad that things had seemed to go badly with our foray into the Pathfinder Guild, but was very interested in investigating the library. We eventually found Hewron who was more interested in shelving books rather than talking to us, but was able to direct us to the Guild's resources on legendary and mythical swords. We all began reading through the texts, Soma taking pretty much all of the older materials while Meda tackled the Dwarven tomes and I struggled with the poorly-written Goblin records. Soma eventually found a reference to the Sword of Chellan, as well as six other swords located in one of the oldest books among the collection. We were able to discern that all seven swords shared a similar overarching story and so it could be there are a total of seven legendary swords, or one sword which inspired seven legends. Personally I'm hoping for the seven swords because with my Efficient Quiver I can store quite a few weapons in there now, and it's always nice to have options.

Satisfied with what research we could find, we headed back to Festivus's Tavern to see if Whitmore had finally recovered from his hangover and we planned on attending Tandem's next class in the afternoon.

- Krinsblag

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Adventures of Krinsblag: 3:10 to Laekastel

Our return to the mainland proved uneventful and the pirates finally dropped us off on the mainland, informing us the nearest Pathfinder base was in a town called Laekastel and if we followed the iron road we'd find it in a few days. I will admit that the road we were following was rather strange. It had a gravel bed like some of the better-maintained roads, but spaced evenly across the road were wooden beams, almost as if it was a corduroy road, but they were spaced too far apart for that. Placed on top of these wooden beams were iron rails, located on either side of the roadbed and apparently running its whole length. A nearby signpost informed us this was the road to Laekastel and we headed along the road with no incident for the rest of the day.

The next day we continued along the road and began noticing stone statues located along the right-of-way for the road. As we've gotten rather used to everything trying to kill us we looked on the statues with some apprehension but they proved initially harmless and we continued on our way. Key word being initially. As we continued down the road we noticed one of the statues moved slightly, and Soma was able to identify it as a stone golem. Not wishing to provoke something capable of murdering us with one hand behind its back, we tried going about a hundred feet off the road and circling the golem. Unfortunately for us there was a strange electrical phenomenon along the side of the road, which forced us to return between the rails. As we returned to the road we noticed a strange man covered in tattoos standing in the center of the road. As we approached he told us to surrender our weapons and valuables and we could walk away with our lives. Meda said nothing, clearly in shock at the sheer impertinence of such a remark. Whitmore exclaimed, “Where'd you learn to count, boy? Stupid school?” Soma announced his intention to eat the bastard, and I merely laughed heartily and said, “All right, let's kill him.”

I will say this about our attempted mugger, he at least came fairly prepared. It turned out the stone golem and a lightning elemental were also on his side. (Well, Soma says it was just a quasi-elemental which means it only got its GED, whatever that means.) If we hadn't pulled a few tricks the muggers may have actually killed us, but thankfully they were nowhere as bad as those damn cloakers we ran into on the island. Soma, of course, barely broke a sweat using fairly low-level spells to handle the situation. Things looked a little hairy there for a while, but we finally managed to give these criminal scum the sweet release from life they desired. I mean, anyone stupid enough to jump us at this point has to be suicidal.

After patching up our hurt, especially mine in particular, we continued to follow the rails until we spotted a building in the distance. As we approached we noticed it was a tavern that bore the symbol of Cayden Cailean, always a welcome sight, and entered the establishment. The interior proved empty except for the landlord, an extremely friendly fellow by the name of Festivus who immediately welcomed us profusely and shoved drinks into all of our hands. After a few rounds Festivus asked us what brought us to his tavern and what we were doing. Which resulted in us telling a somewhat edited but highly entertaining version of our adventures beginning in No Fun. (Although I suspect the alcohol may have made it more interesting.)

Festivus then asked us what we were planning on doing now, and we tried to diplomatically ask his opinion on the Pathfinder Guild. Festivus explained that he used to run with the Pathfinders a few years back and had lots of fun and adventures with them, but recently things had taken a new direction with the new leader of the Pathfinders, which had lead to him leaving the Guild. We found out that the bastard who sent us down into No Fun was the same one who had taken over the Guild and made fun. We then told Festivus we intended to go straight up to him and demand that he pay us (Which is partially true) and Festivus was supportive, but warned us against breaking into the vaults because quite a few dangerous artifacts had been safely sealed away. We assured him we'd take precautions and Festivus gladly gave us a map of the complex, as well as a map of the first two levels of the vaults, although it seems there may be a third level below them. Festivus then welcomed us to sleep in his tavern and promptly passed out from the liberal amounts of alcohol. I'm looking forward to meeting across our Pathfinder friends again. Cash, loot, and a little bit of revenge are just what I have in mind.

- Krinsblag 

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris

This week I've decided to read part one of a three-part biography about my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt chronicles the life of TR from birth to September 1901 when the death of William McKinley makes TR the most powerful man in America. The next book, Theodore Rex, focuses on TR's seven years in office as President, and the final book, Colonel Roosevelt, talks about TR's life after the presidency. I will definitely be reading the next two books at some future point, however even I need occasional breaks from historic research.

Overall I found this book very interesting and, for me at least, not too difficult to read. For whatever reason I have a great amount of difficulty reading biographies so finding one that I can enjoy is always a good thing. I will say that this book definitely skimps on TR's personal life after his marriage to his second wife, Edith. There is a lot of focus in his earlier years, and his courtship of Alice Lee gets quite a lot of attention. Of course, as TR has no professional life during this time period I suppose that the author has nothing else to talk about besides TR's personal life. However, once he enters the political sphere and once Alice tragically passes away in 1884, the focus becomes almost entirely on TR's professional life. Of course, don't get me wrong, I'm quite interested in TR's professional life and was happy for the focus, but TR's growing family and relationship with Edith are quietly in the background, seldo mentioned and added really only as an afterthought. I suppose that may have been a conscious choice of the author, who wanted to focus more on TR's rise to political power, but it feels like a major hole from an otherwise rather detailed biography.

I will admit that this biography has also been really helpful in expanding my knowledge and allowing me to evaluate TR more objectively. I was, of course, aware of TR's ardent support of American expansion and the growth of an American empire, but had accepted it as going hand in hand with all the other imperialist philosophies floating around the industrialized nations at the time. I was, however, rather concerned to discover he took pride in the fact that his regiment took the most casualties in battle during the Spanish-American War, seeing it as a symbol of the manliness of his men. I think almost anyone else would see it as a sign of poor leadership. I was also rather surprised, despite his public person of a reformer and numerous efforts to combat machine politics and blatant corruption and cronyism in politics, that TR was willing on several occasions to cooperate with machine politicians to get what he wanted. It seems rather hypocritical to me, but at the same time TR was a consummate politician with everything that entails.

What I'm really taken away with is the sheer boundless energy that carries TR through life. The first part certainly seems to drag, as if hampered by TR's own struggles with asthma and gastroenteritis. As he reaches adulthood and begins to overcome his childhood ailments he takes off running and never looks back, and the book seems to fly along with him. I was amazed to find out the longest TR held a job prior to becoming president was six years as a federal Civil Service Commissioner. Most of the other jobs he held, New York Assemblyman, Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, he held for only a couple of years before rushing off to the next stepping stone. Sometimes I find it a wonder TR got anything done at all.

Overall, I'd say this book is fairly strong in its praise of TR, although most biographies tend to be somewhat positive about their subject. However, there is enough information in there about TR's faults, such as his jingoism and racism so typical of the late nineteenth century, as well as his utter spendthrift habits, that you can make an almost objective view of TR. I am, of course, rather late to the party as this biography has been out for quite some time and has been highly regarded by many people, but it's definitely worth the read in my opinion.

- Kalpar

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Raiding the Stacks: From the Earth to the Moon, & Around the Moon, by Jules Verne

This week I've decided to delve back into the realm of incredibly old-school science-fiction by reading some Jules Verne. In this installment I've read two stories: From the Earth to the Moon, a story which details the creation of a giant cannon to launch a projectile at the moon and its eventual firing, and its sequel Around the Moon, which follows the misadventures of said projectile. Both of these stories are contained in one e-book available for free on (However, I'm sure there are plenty of other places where you could obtain a copy as well.)

Overall this work is in many ways very classic Verne and actually remind me of both 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth. In the first respect, this novel is filled with an almost pedantic attention to scientific detail, much like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which makes these stories in some cases prophetic about our eventual endeavors to reach the moon. On the other hand, these novels are also filled with a lot of oddball science that, although seeming cutting edge in the late 1800's, seems downright laughable today, much like Journey to the Center of the Earth. I will admit that the more technical aspects are definitely more difficult to read through, but it shows the Verne was keeping abreast of the latest scientific thought of his day.

What is particularly uncanny about this set of novels is that Verne writes about the Americans raising money to launch a projectile towards the moon and furthermore launching it from a location in Florida near Tampa. (Granted Cape Canaveral is on the opposite side of the peninsula, but what's a hundred-odd miles between friends?) And there is, of course, a very good reason for this. As Verne predicted, the most efficient way to send something towards the moon is to launch it from somewhere within the 28th Northern and Southern parallels. Florida and Texas were the only two states at the time below the 28th Northern parallel. (Hawaii of course is almost entirely below the 28th parallel but would not be annexed until 1898.) What is equally impressive was Verne's ability to calculate the necessary escape velocity of 11.2 km/s given the information and methods available to him at the time. In these respects the novel was rather prophetic, but it definitely starts to break down from there.

When you get into the later parts of the novel the science definitely starts to break down, although I guess you can't really judge Jules Verne for relying upon what was their best working knowledge in the 1860's. After all, new discoveries in science are being made all the time, constantly revising our understanding of the universe around us. Ideas such as the moon being oblong-shaped like an egg, that it contains some traces of atmosphere, and that it must have been inhabited at some point, seem downright silly in retrospect, but they were probably considered cutting-edge in the day. I personally found the assumption by the characters that we would one day launch a mission to the surface of the sun and develop machines to straighten the earth's axial tilt particularly funny. It seemed to capture the essence of the belief of the late nineteenth century that there was absolutely nothing that science could not achieve, given sufficient time and resources.

Overall these two books were kind of funny with the insanely optimistic belief in science and technology, as well as the assumption that only the Americans would be brash enough to attempt to take a trip to the moon. However, the extreme focus on science and mathematics really takes away from the story in many respects and it actually takes away from the story.

- Kalpar

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Adventures of Krisblag: Maelrawn the Disappointing

We emerged once again from our extra-dimensional campsite, ready to unleash seven kinds of hell on whatever else we could find down in these caverns. As we were walking along the hallway, Whitmore and I noticed that part of the wall looked...not quite right. Upon investigation it proved to be an illusion concealing a secret passage. The hidden passage had some sort of strange...slime...that appeared to be growing from the rocks itself, but undeterred we proceeded onward into the chamber. Within it we found a bier which had a giant mound of green slime on top, surrounded by dried out husks of skin. Having gotten quite used to how these things seemed to go Whitmore shouted, “Surrender your treasure now and we probably won't murder you.” There was a reply in a language none of us understood, but Soma was able to utilize his magic to translate and revealed that the room was, in fact, inhabited. Whitmore then asked whom we were addressing and the slime congealed itself into a freaky ocean monstrosity and revealed itself to be Maelrawn the Tentacular.

We were, at first, rather concerned by Maelrawn's sudden appearance. As the pirates seemed to be scared shitless at the very mention of his name, and mighty sea creatures obeyed his commands, we were worried we had come up against a force to be reckoned with. However, Soma was able to discern that Maelrawn did not seem as powerful as he claimed to be. Our suspicions were further strengthened when Maelrawn revealed he was trapped down within this island simply because he had no access to water. He wasn't bound by a magic spell or hemmed in by magic wards, or chained with adamantium or even shifted into a pocket dimension. He's trapped because there's no water. I mean, why were we even afraid of this guy in the first place? We could literally leave him right there at the bottom of the hole and he would continue to not be a threat to anyone. Desperate weakling that he was, he tried convincing us to help him get free, which earned nothing but our contempt and decision to outright murder him.

Sadly, I must say I remember nothing of the battle with Maelrawn, which is really a big disappointment in and of itself, but is only coupled with the fact that the fight was over in ten seconds. As I was standing right in front of Maelrawn and waving around that spear specifically designed to hill him, Maelrawn decided to focus on me and take control of me with a spell, resulting in me just standing there uselessly, not even my martial spirit could save me. But as that happened, Meda fired several arrows straight into Maelrawn, Soma dropped a spell, Whitmore threw a bomb right down Maelrawn's gullet, and Meda fired another cluster of arrows into his face. At which point Maelrawn dropped over, almost but not quite dead, and I took quite great pleasure in finishing him off. Done. That's it. We've literally fought a tree that took more time and effort to kill than this so-called god. Disappointing as hell.

After looting whatever scant valuables Maelrawn had hoarded for indeterminite purposes, we headed back down the passage, investigating the remaining chambers. In one we found five more of the freaky fish guard people, which Soma quickly scorched to death with a fireball, who seemed to be working on finishing that canal project which would have let Maelrawn out to disappoint the entire world. Thankfully we had spared the world such a horror. The final chamber turned out to be an alchemical workshop containing none other than Gerlach, also transformed into a freaky fish person. Gerlach naturally asked who the hell we were and what we wanted, and I decided to begin negotiating from a position of strength by saying, “We're the people who just killed your god.”

In hindsight, after I'd been hit by two lightning bolts, saying that you've just killed someone's god may not be the best position to begin negotiating from. However, in my defense I figured that anyone obeying something as pitiful as Maelrawn had to be much lower down on the food chain than Maelrawn and would surrender unconditionally and immediately following such a statement. This seemed, however, to only irritate Gerlach and provoke him into attacking us. Once again I charged forward and managed to get a good hit in, followed by the usual collection of bombs, spells, and arrows, but Gerlach did something that let him sap my energy somehow and I found myself too weak to properly beat him to death with my sword. It turned out Gerlach was actually stronger than the so-called god he worshiped. But not much stronger because we murdered him to death as well.

An examination of Gerlach's lab turned up a few odds and ends, but perhaps most importantly information on a potion that could reverse the curse of the island, as well as the curse affecting the pirate people. Gathering the remaining loot and valuables we easily escaped from Maelrawn's prison of...a hole in the ground, and emerged once again upon the island. We found the remaining villagers and explained Gerlach and Maelrawn were dead and we would soon be sending help to assist them. They seemed rather unimpressed. We went back down to the beach and utilizing my manta cloak I was able to tow the party and the boat back to Blackcove to meet with the pirates. The pirates seemed rather sad that Gerlach was dead, but relieved that Maelrawn was gone and that there was a way to remove the curse afflicting them. The captain rewarded us with some lovely cash and we were invited to a feast to be held that evening.

At the feast things were a little...odd. The captain seemed far more formal than he needed to be, especially considering we had just saved his village of eight people from being disappointed to death. It seemed that for once there was a reason because the captain later diplomatically asked about our opinions of the Pathfinder Guild. After we enthusiastically expressed our hatred for those bastards and their role in sending us down into No Fun, the captain seemed much more relieved and explained that he was no friend to the Pathfinders as well, having stolen quite a few of their artifacts and objects over the years. The captain went on to say that he was very interested in a sword which belonged to a woman named Chellan, a being that had been created by alchemists trying to convert lead into gold. Her sword was made of hardened gold and contained many wondrous properties, including the ability to turn people it struck into gold. As the captain was a collector of swords he was rather interested in obtaining this sword and wished to hire us to acquire it for him, as well as any other swords we might find interesting and cared to give him. He promised to reward us handsomely if we succeeded and would take us to the port where he had a very good lead on the sword's location. As we had no compunctions about liberating artifacts from the Pathfinders we agreed to take on this job for the captain.

- Krinsblag the Manta Lord

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

This week I've decided to re-read the five books in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy in one froody volume. Yes, you read that right. I will admit that it's been about seven or eight years since I last read any of the Hitchhiker's Guide books so a few things did slip my mind and it proved to be a much-needed refresher. Furthermore, by Douglas Adams's own admission between the novels, movie, radio broadcasts, and BBC television series there are something like five or six conflicting different storylines. Plus there is the wham of the last novel which, again, Adams admitted to being influenced by him having a rather bad year. Adams was working on another novel, The Salmon of Doubt, which might have expanded the series but he tragically passed away in 2001.

This particular anthology contains the five core novels: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life, the Universe, and Everything, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish, and Mostly Harmless, as well as a short story Young Zaphod Plays it Safe. I will admit that on re-reading the series, I actually found it kind of disjointed as there seem to be different plots that go off in different directions before they fizzle out more or less unresolved. I get the feeling that a lot of this is because Adams is adapting his radio serials into book format and things got shifted around. (I have also had the fortune to listen to some of the radio serials and bits of the BBC series so I am aware of some slight changes between mediums.) Tone wise the whole series starts out rather humorous with quite a lot of jokes but it takes a more serious tone towards the end. There are of course still some funny bits in Mostly Harmless, but it feels almost like a different universe than the original few books.

The plot is initially kicked off when the earth is destroyed by galactic bureaucrats for the creation of a hyperspace bypass. Arthur Dent, an otherwise normal Englishman living in the West Country, is saved from his planet's demolition by the help of his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to be an alien from a planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. Ford and Arthur soon team up with Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian on a series of increasingly improbably adventures throughout the galaxy, attempting to find the meaning to life, the universe, and everything. The first two books are by far the most connected, with the second one merging practically seamlessly plot-wise with the first, although the third is also strongly connected. There is a definite break in the third novel, however, and the fourth and fifth definitely go off in their own directions. I am loathe to admit that on re-reading the novel I found myself liking considerably fewer of the characters this time around, although that again may be because of a difference in my own personality rather than anything else. It's definitely an odd collection of books but well worth the time to read.

Personally my favorite out of the five novels is So Long and Thanks For All the Fish. It is a book that focuses almost exclusively on our everyman character Arthur Dent and we finally get to see him experience some good things in his life. Maybe I'm a romantic but after all of the madness and tromping around the universe that Arthur Dent had to put up with in the first three novels, I felt he had earned some well-deserved happiness.

As a series, Hitchhiker's Guide has become part of the sci-fi canon for very good reason. Its humor, its complicated yet nonsensical plots, and its satire of society make it extremely enjoyable, and references to it are common throughout nerd culture. If you haven't read it yet, all I can really say is that you should and I think you'll be highly satisfied. Just remember, Don't Panic, and always bring a towel.

- Kalpar