A Few Of My Favorite Things


Here's some of my favorite stuff, from media of all sorts that I really enjoy. I hope you like them, too. As time goes by I'll expand this, and possibly break it into separate pages for easier reading. For now, here's a quick TOC.

Authors
Fredric Brown - forgotten master of science fiction, mystery, and humor
Isaac Asimov - the Good Doctor. Humanist, humorist, and incredibly prolific author
Robert Arthur - Neglected creator of The Three Investigators, author of wonderful short fantasies for children and teens
Barry Hughart - His novels of "an ancient China that never was" push the boundries of fantasy
Cordwainer Smith - Diplomat, poet, and creator of incredibly different - and wonderful - science fiction

Books
Kim, by Rudyard Kipling - Not SF, but an incredible coming-of-age classic in a truly magical land
I, Claudius by Robert Graves - Another non-SF classic, a masterpiece of intrigue, sex, power, magic, and death
The Portmanteau Book, by Thomas Rockwell - Love! Revenge! Underwear! And amazing art! For children of all ages
Superstoe, by William Borden - The epitome of modern political black humor, a surprisingly prescient and funny novel

Comics
Kid's Comics
Teen Comics - Batman, Spiderman, OMAC, others
College-Age Comics - Dark Knight, Sandman, others

Boardgames
Nothing much here yet.

Video Games
Empty now, but someday...

Computer Games
Nope, you guessed it, nothing.

Movies
Huge numbers of exciting reviews, okay, nothing. Yet. But check back again.


Authors

I read like a speed-demon, virtually all the time. I mean that: every second I can, I'm reading. And I've been that way since I was first able to read, which was at the age of two or so. As a result I've read a lot of crap, but also a lot of great books. Overall, it's been worth it.

Fredric Brown. An absolutely wonderful writer; he created short and short-short stories that were absolute gems of cleverness, and his novels were often just as good. But although he was a brilliant science fiction writer, the noir mysteries he wrote for the pulp magazines were even more endearing. There's something about a really good writer that makes you just like him, wish you could thank him even though he's gone; and Fredric Brown had that in spades. And another odd thing: although he wrote much of his work half a century ago, it still feels fresh and new. Even his pulp noir stories, some of which are heavily dependent on the culture of the time, don't feel dated. A number of collections of his work for the detective pulps were published, but the company printing them went out of business; I've been told that this has happened several times, that a small company starts publishing Brown's work only to go belly-up. It's a terrible pity. His work is all out of print right now, but I highly recommend finding some of his stuff in the library or through a used book service online (some are listed in my Links section).

Although he has been unjustly neglected, there are still quite a few people who appreciate his work. And a search on the web turns up quite a few sites. There are short bio of him here, as well as a selected bibliography. Alas, the best page (for the Fredric Brown Society) has been retired; if it comes back in some form (it may) I'll be sure to list it. By the way, Brown was also an Alice In Wonderland fan, and references it in quite a few books and short stories.

UPDATE! Since I first wrote this, NESFA Press has released a complete edition of all of Fredric Brown's short science fiction! It's called From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown. This is one of the books that NESFA Press plans to keep in print forever—literally. The books are printed on acid-free paper, and they will reprint them as needed when stocks dwindle. They have also announced that they are working on a second volume, containing Brown's SF novels. NESFA Press deserves great praise for this. Now if only someone would do the same for Brown's mysteries...


Isaac Asimov. The first SF author I ever read, and still one of my favorites. I saw him speak once at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, and he was excellent. Several fundamentalist audience members started shouting at him that he was going to hell because he had read the Bible (obviously, since he'd written a book about it), and yet hadn't accepted Jesus. He quite calmly and clearly replied that religious belief was based on faith, inspired by an emotional experience that he had not had—and that therefore any profession of faith on his part would be meaningless. Of course the fundamentalists took that as an excuse to keep screaming at him until they were removed by Security. I was just a youngster (perhaps 14?), and didn't dare to ask him any questions. Much later, in college, I started to write a letter to him, thanking him for so many years of enjoyment. But I never finished the letter, and of course it's too late now.

A side note: at the age of 11 or so I wrote a short science fiction story. It was the story of an alien invader entering a new solar system and setting up a colony. In the end it was revealed that the invader was a virus, and the "solar system" was a human being. I sent it to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and received a quite savage check-box form response. I burned the story in my front yard and didn't write again for more than fifteen years. George H. Scithers was the editor at the time, and I've never been able to shake the belief that he was a complete asshole. Needless to say, I never blamed Asimov for the rejection.

Anyway, although the SF he wrote in later weren't anywhere near as good as his earlier works, I re-read the Foundation trilogy yearly, and many of his other books almost as often. I should note that I still consider Foundation to be a trilogy, since in my opinion the later books while readable were not true to the initial concept and were not as well written. By the way, Asimov wrote two autobiographies; really three, in a way, since one of them was HUGE and release in two volumes. I have all of them, and they're quite a good read. I also tremendously enjoyed his Murder At The ABA, a modern-day murder mystery set at a booksellers conference and starring a barely fictionalized version of Asimov's friend and noted psycho-author Harlan Ellison as the protagonist.. Asimov also featured himself in a minor comic relief part in the novel, and maintained a hysterical back-and-forth between himself and the protagonist in running footnotes. It was a wonderful book, and I later read that he'd wanted to make it a series—but the publishers said no. A real pity.


Robert Arthur. A terribly neglected author who was never particularly well known in the first place—but one of my favorites nonetheless. He wrote many stories for Alfred Hitchcock, and edited many of his short story collections. There's a good chance that the name was a pseudonym, but it's not clear who he really was. Nonetheless I do believe that he was a single person, since his writing style was quite distinctive. He wrote many stories for young adults in the mystery, fantasy, and horror genres; he wrote the original Three Investigators book, and many of the sequels (and by gum, many of them are STILL a good read!—although if you pick up any, make sure to buy the original ones featuring Alfred Hitchcock and not the later bowdlerized editions in which Hitchcock was written out and replaced with a fictional celebrity.

My impression is that he was (or is, although his birth date has been given as 1909) the quintessential working author; I wouldn't be surprised if he'd done many stories under many different pseudonyms, and in some cases stories have been published as by Alfred Hitchcock which were obviously written by Arthur. Apart from the Three Investigator books, I know of no novels. It's extremely difficult to find out anything much about him. Some have suggested that he was actually Robert Arthur Feder, but lately this has apparently been discredited. According to one online source he may have died in 1969—but there's no other information about him.

Whoops! The net has proved me wrong. It turns out that Robert Arthur had a daughter, who is also a writer—and she has published a biopage of her father on her web site.

Anyway, his short stories were brilliant, charming, and enchanting; even if many were written for children, they are a wonderful read for any age. Here's a bibliography.


Barry Hughart. In a way, I'm not sure how well Hughart's work will wear over the years—are they classics? Or just really good, enjoyable books? I'm not sure.

Hughart has written three books set in a fantasy, almost fairy-tale version of ancient China. His writing is extremely clever, very funny, and often deeply moving. The first book in his series is The Bridge of Birds, and by the end I always have a lump in my throat. The adventures of Number Ten Ox and the incredibly ancient Master Li (a sage with a slight flaw in his character) strike many chords at once, and I envy the hell out of Hughart's writing ability—and his apparent deep knowledge of Chinese folklore and history.

The sequels to The Bridge of Birds are The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen. They are, in the opinion of many, not as good as the first book; but they're still worth reading, and it just feels right that Number Ten Ox and Master Li should have further adventures. It has been quite a while since the last book came out, and I've heard nothing about any further books; but if any do come out, I'll be sure to buy them.

A point of interest: The original draft of The Bridge of Birds (called A Bridge of Birds) is available free on the web—and it's quite an experience. It's loaded into a java game applet, in which you wander through a virtual labyrinth (called the Castle of the Labyrinth from the books), locating each of 30 chapters. Each one requires you to answer a question about the previous chapter before you can read it; they open as a new page in the browser. The labyrinth itself is fairly complicated, and I will confess that I made a map (which is why I created the graph paper that I'll soon be putting in the Sheets section) to find every page. The map itself looks pretty cool, but since I don't have a scanner and there are a few minor mistakes in it anyway, I'll refrain from putting it up. :)

The draft itself is extremely interesting. It has many points in common with the published version, but is actually quite different—enough so to be well worth reading on its own. For example, the entire Ginseng plot is missing, and Master Li is only 19 years old (instead of 120+). Number Ten Ox is barely present at all, and is not the same character. Several elements from the second novel are included, though, and best of all, a number of stories and references which were only hinted at and never explained in the published works are made clear. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend that you read the published version first! And I'd suggest buying a new copy. It's still in print, and frankly the author deserves support. By the way, I've bought several copies and given them away as gifts.

Oh, almost forgot: here's the URL for The Castle of the Labyrinth. Or rather, that's where it used to be. Sometime since when I first wrote this and now (April 2003) that site disappeared. A terrible pity, because it was really cool. Fortunately I saved the text of A Bridge of Birds into a Word file so that I could print it out for personal reading—and because, let's face it, good things disappear too often from the web. It was offered for free on the Web for a long time, so I suppose that there's no harm in posting an Acrobat version of A Bridge of Birds here?

You know, Hughart's ancient China would make a FANTASTIC setting for a roleplaying game.


Cordwainer Smith. Oh, what an incredible talent Paul Linebarger (also known as Lin Bah Loh, Forest of Incandescent Bliss, and Cordwainer Smith) was! I can't really say enough about him. The son of an American diplomat, raised in China, his accomplishments were astonishing even before he started writing science fiction.

By the way, at an Arisia recently I was on a panel about Cordwainer Smith. I may not have been able to offer the deepest analyses, but I was able to provide more details from his stories than anyone else there. I should—I've read them all dozens of times! :)

I don't want to gush on and on, but Smith wrote dozens of absolutely brilliant short stories, and one magnificent novel: Norstrilla. That novel has been made permanently available for sale by the New England Science Fiction Association—NESFA Press—as well as a large collection of all of his short science fiction, titled The Rediscovery of Man. Both books are printed on acid-free paper, and should last for a long, long time. They deserve to.

About his work...it is strongly influenced by Chinese storytelling styles, and includes poetry, song, and blank verse. Although it is technically science fiction, it is the closest thing to fantasy as can be—lyrical, emotional, and beautiful. It's nothing like ordinary science fiction, and I only wish I could have Smith's ability to break free of the constricting stereotypes of the genre.

Need I say that the world of the Instrumentality would be a fantastic setting for a game? It would be. I've never heard of anyone running such a game, but if they do, please let me know—I'd drive for hours to play in it! In the meantime, I may eventually get my act together enough to actually create and run an Instrumentality game. If so, I'll announce it here.

Oddly enough, just like Robert Arthur, Cordwainer Smith's daughter has put up a page about him. It's well worth taking a look.


There's a lot to add to this section! Here are some of the other authors I'll be featuring soon:

Roger Zelazny, Lord Dunsany, Ellery Queen, Robert Sheckley, Michael Moorcock, Barry Longyear, Marvin Kaye, Robert Silverberg, David Brin

Books

My favorite books, the ones I re-read every year or so. Including non-genre ones! Ever read A Confederacy of Dunces?

Kim, by Rudyard Kipling

There are some books which just plain look boring. They're the kind of books that children dread being assigned as required reading. I'm afraid that Rudyard Kipling's Kim is one of these books. Heck, even the title is confusing; is it about a girl named Kim?

No, it is not. And that title and the usually fusty-looking covers mask one of the greatest books ever written—in my humble opinion, of course. :) This is a precious book, yet another of the rare novels that always chokes me up as I reach the end.

The book is the story of Kim, a young orphan of Anglo-Irish parents who was born and grew up in British colonial India, about 100 years ago or a bit more. Although he speaks some English, in many ways he's quite thoroughly Indian in culture—and the India of that time is lovingly portrayed as an unbelievably varied place, so rich and deep that it is absolutely compelling. This is what a roleplaying world should be, and the strangest thing of all is that it was real, not fantasy. Kipling grew up in colonial India, and the background and some of the characters are derived from his own experiences (for example, the Keeper of the Wonder House in Lahore was actually Kipling's father).

The novel is in many ways the perfect coming-of-age story. Young Kim befriends an ancient and kindly Tibetan lama who is on a religious quest for the River of the Arrow, in order to be freed from the Great Wheel of Transmigrations. At the same time, Kim is drawn into the Great Game; the secret war of spying and intrigue going on between the British Government and those who oppose it (which is ultimately Russia). Along the way, he passes from childhood to young adulthood.

There is no "magic" as such here, and almost everything has quite a rational explanation (although there is much that seems magical to Kim's young eyes). Yet the book itself explodes with magic, with a feeling of wonder and excitement. All I can say is that reading it fills me with a profound wish to journey to the time and place, and that I'd dearly love to play in a good game set in that world. Kim taught me that the real world can be as or even more exciting than a fantasy world, in the hands of the right storyteller. And Kipling was truly a master. It's clear, by the way, that Robert Heinlein was strongly influenced by Kipling. RAH's Citizen of the Galaxy is rather reminiscent of it.

What else can I say? In the roster of books which I can unabashedly say I love, Kim is certainly within the top ten—and I refuse to make any comparisons or hierarchy among those books. I cannot recommend it more highly.

A side note: Kipling wrote other stories about India, including several which feature characters also seen in Kim. Yet they're quite different, and I found them difficult to get through; there was a sort of light, a brightness to Kim that is missing. The only other books by Kipling which come even close to that feeling are the Jungle Books, which I also recommend. But for your own sake, please try to read them before being exposed to the Disney movies! And speaking of movies, beware the film versions of Kim. I haven't seen the 1950 version (which stars a young Dean Stockwell as Kim (talk about miscasting!), and includes Errol Flynn), but the 1984 Peter O'Toole version was an abomination. Peter O'Toole looks about as Tibetan as I do, and seemed to spend the entire movie on a blissed-out drooling high.

Incidentally, I looked up those movies and some reviews on the highly useful Internet Movie DataBase, and feel safe in saying that Leonard Maltin is a driveling moron and apparently a complete whore as far as movie reviews go. :)

(June 9, 2002) Yippee! I just realized that since Kim was written so very long ago, it must be in the public domain—and therefore available FREE online! There's therefore no reason for anyone not to read this wonderful novel—well, except for time, of course. Still, I really can't stress enough how simply incredible this book is. The Project Gutenberg version is a text file that you can read with your browser, as opposed to some other online versions which are prettier—but those other versions have commercials, and break up the chapters into separate pages. You can find the other ones if you want, but I recommend the Gutenberg one.

ftp://ftp.cdrom.com/pub/docs/books/gutenberg/etext00/kimrk11.txt

If you read it, please write to me and let me know what you think.

Later: Sigh. For some reason that link became broken almost as soon as I put it up—not because of anything I did, mind you. It seems that the site is down, and I fear it's unreliable. So I switched the link to a mirror that's up as of today, and with great reluctance I'm adding a link to a commercial site below. It's still free to read, of course, although Kim is a book that can be re-read over and over—it's well worth owning a hard copy.

Here's that commercial link.

http://www.online-literature.com/kipling/kim/

And while I'm at it, here's a link to a non-commercial version of Kipling's Jungle Book. If all you know about that is the Disney movie, please save your soul and read the book! Not only is it wonderful for readers of any age, like Kim it has a

Kipling, Rudyard, 1865-1936. The Jungle Book.
Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

What the heck; here's a link to some great short stories by H.G. Wells, too. I'll move the link into a separate Wells section later, when I actually make one.

The Door in the Wall, and Other Stories
Wells, H. G. (Herbert George), 1866-1946


I, Claudius by Robert Graves (1934)

I picked this off my parents' bookshelf a long time ago...I don't suppose that I was older than 13. At the time, of course, I didn't understand a lot of it. Nonetheless, it blew my mind.

I, Claudius purports to be part of the autobiography of Claudius Tiberius Drusus this-that-and-the-other, a letter written specifically to the people of the 20th century at the command of the Oracle at Delphi. At the time, I really believed that that's what it was. Years later, of course, I found out differently: it was a work of partially fictionalized history by Robert Graves.

But that didn't matter. It's a GREAT story! Intrigue, magic, murder, treason, madness, sex, war...you name it, this book has it. And yet unlike a lot of modern books, it doesn't glory in vile things. Claudius is a (mostly) decent, moral center to the story, and cruelty and injustice are portrayed as horrible things—which they are, of course. The book is timeless, a classic that at the same time has that "can't put it down" quality.

The PBS TV series that was based on it is commonly considered classic, but in my mind it falls well short of the novel. For one thing, the screenwriters altered some great dialog by replacing it with their own far less inspired writing. John Heard was a great Caligula, and Derek Jacobi was quite good as Claudius; come to think of it, Brian Blessed was an excellent Augustus (Blessed played King Richard in the first BlackAdder series, by the way). The actress who played Livia was wonderful. So I suppose that you couldn't really expect much more. Still, although it was well worth watching it's not a classic to my mind.

One interesting thing about the TV series: it confirmed my suspicion that PBS was censoring its content. I saw the show when it first came out, and there was one scene which was very horrifying; the mad Emperor Caligula, having impregnated his sister, decided to emulate Chronos from Greek mythology. By ensuring that he would never have a child more powerful than he. In short, Chronos swallowed his children, with the exception of Zeus; he was decoyed with a stone in the place of the baby Zeus, who later grew up and overthrew him.

Anyway, Caligula emulated Chronos. They didn't show anything directly, just a scene before and after; Caligula talking to his chained-up sister, and then later coming out of the room with blood all over his mouth. But in later rebroadcasts of the series, the latter scene was definitely cut. I still don't know if it was restored for the recent DVD release.

Another interesting thing about I, Claudius: Charles Laughton tried to make a movie out of the book decades ago. His co-star died, and the production was killed. That was a terrible pity; Laughton was a brilliant actor. A documentary about the attempt was made recently, and has been included on the full-series DVD release. I'll probably pick it up eventually.

I should mention that Graves wrote a sequel to I, Claudius, entitled Claudius the God. I found it quite disappointing, much more depressing and far less interesting than the original. However, I recently found something amazing! Perhaps other Claudius readers already knew, but since I read the book annually for more than 20 years and only made this discovery recently...well, if there's anyone out there who loved the book as much as I did but didn't know about this, you'll thank me.

Perhaps you'd like me to get to the point? Here it is: Graves based much of I, Claudius on a book by an ancient Roman historian called Suetonius. The book was translated into English as The Twelve Caesars. The translator? Robert Graves. That's right, there is a large book of additional material which any fan of I, Claudius would love! Best of all, it's still available in a Penguin edition. I've got mine, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it!

The Portmanteau Book, by Thomas Rockwell (1974)

Unique. Magical. Funny as hell. And best of all, you can read it while you're eating spaghetti and you don't care if the sauce slops all over it. REJECTED

Seriously, this is a wonderful book both for children and adults of all ages. It's a riot between two covers; containing (among other things) 6.5 stories, a poll, "a loony bin," a cautionary tale, "poems of food, passion, and machinery," a consolation page, funny poems, recipes, an eyewitness account of the Great Duck Rescue, a mystery page, a Star-Spangled Contest, a Chinese demon maze, an epic, a unique comic book, advertisements, a cryptogram, 17 'bonus pages', and the only Glossary I know of to contain a complete bank robbery.

Jeeze. I left out the cook book. Where else can you find a recipe which tells you what to do when your aunt "offers you her bristly cheek to kiss"? The answer starts with peeling an orange section, if you were wondering.

Long out of print, of course. Fairly rare, though you should be able to find it in the library or the various online book search services (look in the Links section for some). It's a large book, which is appropriate since a lot of the art is integrated into the rest of the material. I've seen it both in hardcover and in paperback.

Thomas Rockwell also wrote the really funny and charming How to Eat Fried Worms, which is still in print and quite popular. The sequel featuring the same characters, How to Fight A Girl, wasn't quite as good.

Superstoe, by William Borden

I just re-read an old favorite novel, and realized that a lot of readers here would probably get a big kick out of it—and that the odds are really good you'll never have heard of it. It's called Superstoe, by William Borden, and it's the story of a group of somewhat insane geniuses who decide to take over the US government and reform society. Their plan includes:

  1. Manipulating public opinion by publishing false polls
  2. Using fake terrorist attacks with biological weapons to get support from the people
  3. The use of a nationwide electronic data system to allow the people to vote and create referenda

Plus a whole lot more. What makes it unusual is that it was first published in 1967! In other words, way before the Internet was around (although I can't speak for DARPANET). Back when that maniac Ross Perot was suggesting that America should use electronic town halls for public debate, some reporters suggested he'd picked the idea up from this book—but I tend to doubt it. The book is too funny and clever for someone like Perot to have read it. More likely he paid someone to read it and give him a one-paragraph summary.

Anyway, the book is funny as hell, highly literate without being affected, and very imaginative.

The novel falls apart a bit at the end, I think, but that was almost to be expected. And the rest of the book is so funny that it really doesn't matter.

The first chapter of the book is online at http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/english/WilliamBorden.doc. It's in Word format, unfortunately.

The book was long out of print, but was brought back in 1996 and a hardcover edition is still available. Most libraries should have a copy. If you want to know how much I like this book, I took out a library copy and photocopied each page in the early 1990's! Of course it wasn't available to buy back then, and there were no online rare-book searches.

One thing: the book is slightly dated. Not in its tone or style, actually, but in the actual geopolitics; it would help (but isn't essential) to know about the Soviet Union, and the partition of Germany and Berlin, for example. But considering when the book was written, it has remained remarkably fresh and relevant. For example, when the President makes foreign policy by scaring the crap out of other countries; he persuades them that he's so crazy that he'd really use nuclear missiles, and proves it in a novel way.

If you like Superstoe, you might also like The Funco File by Burt Cole (nowhere near as political, but with a similar sort of quirky humor), and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (a book which everyone should read—I'm not kidding. The plan to Save the World Through Degeneracy alone is worth the price of admission!).

 

Other books to review in the future: Nuts (the Kid) by Gahan Wilson, National Lampoon newspaper parody (including the TV listing for "Chico & the Worms and Bacteria"), Adventures of Phunsi, The Teddy Bear Habit, Shogun, Tinker, Tailor, Alice In Wonderland


Comics

Some are high art, some are low art, some are crap. Who cares? I like a good comic book, and that's all there is to it!

Kid's Comics

As a kid, I loved comics. In the early days I read Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, Casper, and Archie; Betty and Veronica, yow! Although Jughead was my favorite character in the Archie world, possibly because his raging burger addiction somehow never made him gain an ounce (actually I think one time it did, but that was probably an alternate-universe issue). I used to dream about the world of Richie Rich & Jackie Jokes; there was something about an amusement park filled with chemical snow that was only cool rather than freezing. I'm still not sure if I ever actually read that one, or only dreamed it.

Actually, that reminds me of something I once read—in Cracked magazine, which I didn't normally follow—a comic called "Casper the Dead Baby". I can remember almost every line. It featured Casper explaining to Wendy the Witch the story of how he died, and how he happened to lose his ears and hair. As you might guess, it was all the fault of Casper's drunken and abusive father. The finale featured a spell from Wendy: "Butcher knives fly like mad, slice up Casper's mean old Dad!"

I'd give a lot to get a copy of that issue again, but I'm not even sure it was Cracked. I think it also featured an ad, "The Insult That Made A Corpse Out Of Mack"—a parody of the Charles Atlas ads that started with "Hey, quit firing that flame-thrower at my head!"

They just don't write 'em like that any more. :(

Teen Comics

Batman. Oh yeah, Batman. I got hit by a car for Batman. Really! I'd biked over to the comic shop—Bill's Smoke Shop, as I recall (in Westport, CT—I was born in Stamford CT, but basically grew up in Westport—a damn boring town, the few neat stores were replaced by French clothing stores and The Gap long ago). Picked up several comics, headed home, and BAM! got knocked flying by a speeding car coming around a corner. The driver, a pretty young woman, came over to where I was lying on the ground, asked if I was all right, and when I groggily said "yes..." she said "Good!", ran back to her car, and took off.

The strange thing was that I really was okay. My bike was dented and bent a bit, and I had a scrape or two—but nothing even deep enough to bleed. Just lucky, I guess. I rode home (wobbling a little), put my bike in the garage, went upstairs to my room, and lay down on the bed. And suddenly found myself shaking like a leaf.

I didn't tell my parents about that accident for another ten years, by the way. :)

Anyway, Batman was my favorite comic. I even dreamed Batman—but then, so did every other 12-year-old boy. But I read other books as well; Superman, for example, although I always thought that he was...a wuss, somehow. Cool, too—being invulnerable, how could he not be? But that suit and everything, it was just a little too much. Too much like Captain America, who I always identified in my mind with commercials—both for luscious Hostess Fruit Pies and for America itself. That was the mid-1970's, and I'd watched Nixon resign, so although I was too young to be a hippie (and my parents, while no Republicans, were definitely not hippies) I did regard excessive displays of the flag and of patriotism with suspicion. Or maybe that was part of my Armenian heritage...regarding authority with suspicion because deep in my genes I knew how terrible authority could be when it was abused. But I don't believe in racial memory, and I'm getting off the subject. You have my permission to shout "Digression!". :)

My best friend of the time was Steve Bunche. Steve was a comics expert—at 15 years old he could draw professional-quality comics, and I remember well that he had a birthday card that had been drawn and signed by some of the top artists in the business. His collection was impressive, too. He had every X-Men, and I'm talking the first group—back before Wolverine and all the others were brought in. In fact, I remember reading the first X-Men with the new characters at Steve's house as clear as day. It took me a little while to get used to them, but after I found out that Wolverine had real claws I was willing to give them a chance. Old Nightcrawler (BAMF!) amused me, too.

I've lost touch with Steve since then—I hope he's okay. I'd have figured he'd be a big-shot comic book artist, maybe an author too, but I haven't been able to find him listed as one. Steve had one of the best senses of humor of anyone I've ever known...it was a lot like mine, actually. Steve, if you're out there, get in touch!

UPDATE! After what—17 years? I'm back in touch with Steve. How? He did a vanity search one day, and found his name right here on this page! Pretty amazing, huh? And by the way, it turns out he is working at a major comic-book company after all. Yahoo (exclamation of joy, not a dot.com advertistment)!

Who else did I read? Well, Spiderman of course. How could I not identify with a geek named Peter? :) My favorite villain was the Green Goblin—he was kind of a poor man's Joker, but still kind of cool-looking.

Which reminds me, I once read a Spiderman piece that has stuck in my head ever since; Spiderman was battling some second-rate version of the Iceman, who (I think) had a giant snowball for a head (look, it was the seventies). As they were about to battle Iceguy made a trademark Marvel move: a hugely wordy statement in the middle of a battle. What happened next killed me. Spiderman stopped him and said "No no no, you've got it all wrong. You've got to do it like this: 'Cringe and bow before the terrible might and wrath of...SNO-CONE MAN!'"

That's another book I wish I could find. In fact, although I know that they were mostly really badly written I wish I could get copies of all the old comics...even if only on my screen. Alas, unless my dream of a world-wide media bank is ever realized I will have to wait until I've fulfilled every other dream I've ever had and am looking to blow a lot of money. But I'll bet a lot of those odd old books are totally gone, the victims of housecleaning mothers everywhere.

What else? Well, I had a fondness for an incredibly ugly hero called Metamorpho—The Element Man. Man, was he ugly! His body was composed of different elements, and I remember that his head was all white and dead-looking. I think he had gills, too. He was one of the third or fourth-string characters of one of the two big comic companies, and I think he still surfaces now and then. Anyway, I couldn't resist sympathizing with an ugly guy who was cursed and had a science aspect, to boot—Metamorpho's adventures often featured some way to use the element-creating (or was it only transforming?) powers of his body to foil evil ("This giant tungsten spring will expand as the current passes through it!"). *

There were weird old science fiction comics, twisted humor like Young Lust and Psycho Comics, Mad Magazine (long before it became nothing more than a faceless corporate whore), the National Lampoon (ditto)...I miss those days.

There were some odd comics that never really prospered; The Joker, for example, only had a few issues (I bought them all faithfully; the Joker was the coolest villain ever created, after all!). Magnus, Robot Fighter had a cool name but ended up strangely boring. Ghost Rider appealed to me; a flaming skull and cursed hero riding a motorcycle is pretty hard to resist. I even remember a comic called Prez, about some young punk who became the America's youngest President. But the coolest by far of all short-run comics was:

OMAC!

OMAC, the One-Man Army Corps, was both written and drawn by the legendary Jack Kirby for DC Comics. It was a science fiction/superhero comic, set in "The World That's Coming!"—the near future, in other words, but of course not much like the real world (OMAC was written in the 70's, as I recall). The premise was that given the state of technology, any war could mean the end of civilization—so OMAC was created as a fine tool to find and stop trouble before it got out of control. OMAC himself was created by remote electronic surgery of a completely innocent citizen, a nebbish named Buddy Blank. In a haze of energy he was converted from a skinny, pathetic little dweeb into a modern war-god; OMAC had a pretty cool mohawk haircut which kind of resembled a Roman gladiator's helmet-crest.

The other half of the OMAC project was Brother Eye, a self-aware satellite which served OMAC as a communications center and a lot more; it advised him, beamed greater strength into him as needed, and could even alter his momentum. OMAC couldn't quite fly, but he was incredibly strong, could jump huge distances, and was pretty impervious to damage. Unlike many other superheroes, OMAC didn't change back and forth to a secret identity. He was OMAC all the time (well, mostly). The thing that got me was that OMAC had basically lost his original self. It was never spelled out, but he didn't seem to have any memory of having once been Buddy Blank. And he was not particularly happy about existing only to constantly fight evil. In one very memorable moment, he had a tragic epiphany: "OMAC lives...so that Man may live..."

Now THAT was a cool comic. OMAC appeared off and on once in a while in other DC one-shots—I have a team-up issue between him and Superman which was okay—and he fit into the DC universe oddly; supposedly he (Buddy Blank) was a descendant of Superman, and possibly the grandfather of Kamandi (some sort of future-based Tarzan-like figure, possibly post-apocalypse? I never got into that). John Byrne wrote a modern "reinterpretation" of OMAC which sucked, of course. Stick to the original comics, if you can find them. Me, I have them all—although they're not in very good condition.

College-Age Comics

Sometime in my mid-teens I stopped reading comics. They'd gotten a bit hokey...or maybe it was just me. In any case, by the time I got to college (Allegheny College in Meadville PA) I hadn't read a new comic for years, and had quite a bit of contempt for the genre (particularly the more egregious Marvel soap opera style stuff). The writing was embarrassingly juvenile.

And then one day one of my roommates brought by the second book of Frank Miller's Dark Knight.

If you haven't read Dark Knight, you really should. Miller managed to take a major American archetype—Batman—and breathe the original excitement, the passion back into it in a graphic novel that was definitely for adults. My mind was completely blown. On the chance that this wasn't just a fluke, I went back into a comic-book shop for the first time in many years.

I was lucky; a golden renaissance of comics was blooming at that moment. First Comics was publishing Grimjack, Dreadstar, Nexus, and Badger; all very well written, funny and imaginative and different from those stale old heroes in blue long johns. I discovered Alan Moore, and although Watchmen didn't entirely thrill me (my favorite character in it was Rorschach), his V for Vendetta was outstanding; a real tour de force. Later I happened on an early issue of Moore's MiracleMan, which took the deconstruction of the superhero genre to new heights.

And then there was Sandman, of course. No more need be said, but if you haven't read it, you really should. I also enjoyed Hellblazer, although later issues got a bit boring. Still, John Constantine was a top-notch antihero.

The Question was an interesting attempt to take the original character which had been made into Rorschach in Watchmen and re-create it in an original yet up-to-date form. It never quite made it, perhaps because unlike Rorschach, The Question wasn't particularly willing or eager to kill. Still, it was well written and I was sorry to see it be cancelled.

Humor wasn't dead during the comic renaissance, either. Reid Fleming, The World's Toughest Milkman was a secret icon; like many other things I enjoy, it set a pattern that was then imitated and ruined by a host of inferior imitators. A bald, furious, insanely strong milkman who says things like "78 cents or I piss on your flowers!"? Too funny.

But my favorite comedy book was Sam & Max: Freelance Police. It was SO rare...issues came out once per year, at most. But the humor was dead-on, and fit the eccentricities of my own brain perfectly. The adventures across time and space of a psychotic rabbit and a merely violent dog with guns were priceless to me. I'd discovered Sam & Max through a guest appearance in Grimjack, by the way—actually in the back-issue feature Munden's Bar.

In pursuit of Sam & Max I ended up finding one of the sickest and funniest comics I'd ever seen: The Story of Beef, which appeared in a late issue of Critters magazine. The story of Beef Cow and Veal Calf was outright vegetarian propaganda, and magnificently effective; I showed it to my brother and he became a vegetarian for a year. Needless to say, I never stopped eating hamburgers. :)

All good things must come to an end, and several years after I was out of college not a single one of my favorite comics existed any more. First Comics had headed straight into death as if they'd been on a railroad track for it; that was a painful time, because every business decision they made was obviously awful, yet they kept walking straight into bankruptcy. Morons. That wiped out Grimjack, Dreadstar, Badger, and Nexus. Sandman ended, and Hellblazer got boring. The Question was cancelled. New issues of MiracleMan got rarer and rarer, and then disappeared altogether without finishing the story. Even Reid Fleming and Sam & Max dwindled away to almost nothing. And so, for years, I had no reason to go into a comic shop.

Thus it remains...mostly. Although lately Knights of the Dinner Table has been a new bright spot in the comic world, and I've actually been going back into Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square again. Otherwise, I read PvP and Space Moose online and that's about it. Although Space Moose has been inactive for something like two years...still, if you have a VERY strong stomach and a high tolerance for filth and evil, it's very funny.


Boardgames

Including Dune, Stellar Conquest, Starfire, and others.

Video Games

I miss the great games of old...if I had the money, I'd open a nostalgia video arcade and feature Pong, Q-bert, Road Warrior, Star Castle, Dragon's Lair, and so many others. Plus, of course, great home console games like Military Madness for the Turbo Graphx 16. Heck, even almost-modern games like Super Mario 64 were pretty cool...more to come.

Computer Games

Populous, Rogue, Diablo

Movies

The Third Man was the greatest movie ever made. Period. More to come, of course. :)

Others: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eight Dimension (I'm an original Blue Blaze Irregular), Casablanca, Commando, Key Largo, Aliens, RoboCop, Dark Star, The Lathe Of Heaven, Shadow On The Land, Yellow Submarine, Used Cars, The Thing, etc.

Bands & Albums

There won't be too many of these, and they'll be damn obscure, I can tell you that. But good, of course. Really good.


*—Actually I have no idea if tungsten expands when conducting current. Or even if it CAN conduct current.** Sorry.
**—Since it's a metal, I suspect it is a conductor. But don't bet on it.


Main Page
HOME

Roleplaying Adventures & HeroQuests
Scenarios

Generic & RQ Alternate & Add-On Rules
Alternate Rules

The Chaos Project: Magic Items, Found Items, & Chaos Features. Add yours!
Chaos Project

RQ3, RQ2, & CoC Character Sheets, a RQ Help Sheet, more
Character Sheets

NPC People, places, & Things
NPCs & More

Rune Art & the RQ Font
Art

Random Thoughts From A Random Brain
Chatter

Issues of my old zine, resurrected from paper
Game

Zines

Battle Evil Online! Or get munched
Peasant's Progress

Game & Other Recommended Links
Links

So what do you think?
Guestbook!

[email protected] Copyright 2000 by Peter Maranci. Revised: April 04, 2003. v.1.10