Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Interview: Jeanne Cavelos


It is no exaggeration to say that Jeanne Cavelos has had the biggest influence upon the structure and scope of the Babylon 5 universe only after its creator and head writer, Joe Michael Straczynski; to put it in Star Trek terms, she is Bobby Justman to JMS’s Gene Roddenberry.

Formerly an astrophysicist at NASA’s Astronaut Training Division in the Johnson Space Center, Jeanne left her life in science to pursue her dream of writing, ultimately attaining an MFA in creative writing from American University. To make ends meet until she “hit it big,” she landed a job as a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she started a horror imprint – and where she pitched doing a series of media tie-in novels with the burgeoning sci-fi series B5.

The twist, of course, is that she would be asked to pen some of the books herself: the standalone The Shadow Within (1997), explaining the backstories of both Anna Sheridan and Mr. Morden, and the Passing of the Techno-mage trilogy (2001), a prologue to the B5 sequel series, Crusade. Her narrative influence is, thus, both quantitative as well as qualitative: she not only has written the most novels set in Straczynski’s universe, they also have had the biggest impact upon the series’s five seasons and spinoff material, from telefilms to, of course, Crusade. It is in Passing that we learn the entire Shadow War is meant to turn on the mages, on their allegiance to and fighting for one side or another; that a sweeping history of the Vorlons and Shadows is given while concurrently taking a nitty-gritty look at the mechanics of their societies; that the only Babylon 5 installment to feature the techno-mages, “The Geometry of Shadows” (episode 203), is turned on its head and revealed to be something quite at odds with its initial appearance.

And this is where I first met her. After kindly reading a column last year dissecting the deft narrative footwork of her trilogy – and repeatedly invoking Straczynski’s brilliance for fashioning its outline the way he did – Jeanne struck up a conversation with me about her intentions and goals with her novels, generally, and that story thread, specifically. “I wanted to do more with [‘The Geometry of Shadows’] than just reproduce the episode in book form,” she said. “I also had a problem reconciling the basic nature of the techno-mages (in my view, anyway) with their actions in the episode. I couldn't believe they'd make their withdrawal from the galaxy so public. I felt the events of the episode had to be a misdirection, hiding their real actions.”

And with that, in one fell swoop, she simultaneously shattered my view of Straczynski’s handling of his own storied and involved creation and immensely reinforced my appreciation of her narrative instincts and storytelling prowess. I just had to know more, to discern where her voice ended and Straczynski’s (seamlessly) began.


Continuing from our conversation, you have the robe Elric wears in “The Geometry of Shadows” be a present from Isabelle and tie it into the characters and relationships you created for the novels. Why include such a highly specific detail such as this?

First, I'd just like to let you and your readers know that I wrote both The Shadow Within and the Passing of the Techno-mages trilogy some years ago, so my memory is fuzzy. Many details have faded from my mind, and I don't remember my thoughts at every stage of the writing process. I'll answer as best as I can, though.

In many ways, the writing of the trilogy was an exercise in writing backwards. I knew what Galen was like in Crusade, which occurs years after my trilogy. I had to work backwards to figure out how he had become that person and how he would behave and think as a younger man. I knew what Elric was like in "The Geometry of Shadows," and I had to work backwards to figure out how he behaved before that point and how he interacted with Galen.

Not only did I work backwards with the characters, but also with other elements, such as the robe. I looked at the elements that existed in the future and tried to either understand their significance or imbue them with significance. The death of Isabelle is a major trauma for Galen, and I wanted it to mean something to Elric also, to give more emotion to the characters and story. I could have had Isabelle give Elric some cufflinks, but the future of "The Geometry of Shadows" shows us no cufflinks. Rather than inserting some foreign element, I thought it would be more powerful to work with what existed in the future and give it additional meaning. Thus, I decided to make the robe, which the TV viewer had probably given little thought, an important part of his history.

I think readers of media tie-in novels enjoy it when something that has appeared in the TV series or movie gains additional meaning in the novel. I always enjoyed that.

You make Morden, who is a straight villain in the television series, into something of an Anakin Skywalker – a bright and decent individual who has his emotional vulnerabilities manipulated and exploited by a race of dark beings out for conquest. You’ve mentioned the desire to portray him as a shade of grey, like all the other Babylon 5 characters, as the reason behind this depiction, but I’m interested in the specific thought process you undertook to arrive at the character that we see in your four novels. What did that entail, and what do you feel the resultant character adds to your books?

Well, I felt that one of my jobs in writing The Shadow Within was to show how the Shadows worked, how they could corrupt people with the question, "What do you want?" If Morden was evil from the beginning of the novel, and he ran into the Shadows and allied with them, that would not show the corrupting influence of the Shadows. Morden would already be corrupt. It also wouldn't make the Shadows scary, which I think they are and should be. It would just make them bad guys allying with another bad guy. But the Shadows aren't just bad guys. They are frightening because they can turn good people bad by playing on our desires. And we all have desires. They offer temptation.

It also didn't seem like a good idea to make Morden's desires petty and selfish. For example, if he was greedy and the Shadows promised him money, Morden's fall wouldn't seem particularly tragic or carry much emotion with it. I wanted his fall to be tragic, so that every time you saw him or read about him, you would feel bad about what had happened to him. That meant his desire had to be understandable, something we could sympathize with. And that's how Morden became the character in the books.


Galen discovers a whole host of Shadow-related powers, including the ability to cover himself in the skin from the Shadow vessels and to fire their laser beams from his palms. I would ordinarily assume this was a contribution from your end, but it jives so thoroughly and perfectly with the proposed first season finale for Crusade, “The End of the Line,” in which Captain Gideon and Galen discover that EarthForce is creating an entire army of Shadow soldiers with the same abilities.

I honestly can't remember when I put those elements into the trilogy. I was able to read the script for "The End of the Line," but I think I didn't gain that access until near the end of my writing process, so it didn't affect things too much. The general nature of Galen's powers grew out of my thoughts about Anna Sheridan being incorporated into the Shadow ship, and the techno-mages being a better incorporation of human and Shadow-tech. The idea that the techno-mages were created by the Shadows to be super-powerful agents of chaos evolved very early in my thoughts about the trilogy. But I'm not sure when the various specific abilities came into the books, or whether I came up with those two myself or took that information from JMS's script.

The single most fascinating and ingenious element to come out of the trilogy is the mages’ different spell languages. Walk us down the path of its creation. Was it mostly a pragmatic device to tell your story the way you wanted to, or was it a conceptual item that jumped out at you right away, even before you started to outline?

In my outlining, as soon as I realized Galen was going to discover an extremely powerful spell, I knew I had to have a strong explanation for his discovery, and the explanation I came up with was the different spell languages. I needed to explain why Galen could discover a spell that no other mage had ever discovered, and I needed to explain why other mages still couldn't perform the spell even after he discovered it. That meant the way he accessed the Shadow tech was different than the way other mages accessed it. This appealed to me as a writer, because it offered a new way of revealing the personalities of the various mages. Their spell languages revealed how they thought. This also made sense to me, since the tech was intimately connected with their bodies and minds. As a scientist and mathematician, I had fun developing Galen's rigid, mathematical spell language, and I think it helped to show his character.


Okay, bear with me here for a moment. It seems to me that the dominant theme of The Passing of the Techno-mages is the connection between a culture and its mores with its technology, how the one is shaped and made manifest by the other. The Shadows and the Vorlons, the most ancient of the ancient, predicate their spacecraft and tools and allies to operate on absolute obedience (even though one race is dedicated to pure chaos). The techno-mages, caught in the middle, also fall into the trap of thinking they have to similarly dominate their tech, but Galen proves that a purely symbiotic relationship is possible by operating on mutual respect, not subservience – which resonates strongly with B5’s narrative of the younger races eschewing the philosophies of their “parents” and creating a third, independent path. How conscious were you of this thematic motif while in the writing process? And did you deliberately attempt to make it as complementary as it is to the main series?

I agree that's one of the major themes of the trilogy. I was troubled by the fact that the Shadows were so oppressive and authoritarian, which seems to contradict their belief in chaos. So I attempted to make the techno-mages agents of chaos. The chaos is imposed upon the hosts of the Shadow tech, but at least it is chaos and not order.

Some of the wonderful things JMS does in the series reflect the techniques that great writers use. For example, one of the most important traits of any character is his desire – his answer to "What do you want?" So making that a key element in the series creates very strong characters. A great climax will often have the protagonist choosing a third path that is not either of the two the reader or viewer is anticipating. JMS does a wonderful job with that at the climax of B5, because it seems humanity must choose either the Vorlons or the Shadows, but instead they choose their own way. This was definitely in my mind as I wrote the trilogy. The mages also seem to face two alternatives: they must either succumb to the Shadow tech or completely repress the tech, but neither answer is the right one. The tech is part of Galen, for better or worse, and if he can find a way to live with it, that would be much preferable to the other alternatives. Similarly, we all have destructive, chaotic characteristics, and if we can find a way to accept them and live with them without succumbing to them, we can experience some measure of peace.

The fact that the tech itself was alive and had a will of its own allowed Galen to find this third path.

Do you think Straczynski would’ve allowed you to make such sweeping changes and additions to his universe – such as essentially killing off the techno-mage order – had Crusade not been cancelled before you started writing? Was there any kind of communication or intimation in this regard?

I don't know JMS's thought processes, so I can't really answer this question. I wrote a ridiculously long scene-by-scene outline for the trilogy and showed it to him, and he gave his approval, so he was aware of what I was up to from early in the process. That is not an element we discussed, as far as I remember. My suspicion is that he might have thought he would come up with some way to explain the resurgence of the techno-mages, in the event he ever needed more of them for a new TV series or movie.

I did work some with Peter David, who had several techno-mage characters in his trilogy. He had a few things in the draft of his trilogy that contradicted my trilogy – different techno-mage terminology and the techno-mages were not dying out – but I filled him in on my evil plans for the techno-mages, and he made everything consistent with that. I dropped his techno-mage characters into my trilogy to add continuity, and it was fun to have my characters insult his characters. Peter did a lot of development of the Drakh in his trilogy, so he shared that information with me, and I tried to make my Drakh consistent with his.


You took a book series that was supposed to revolve solely around an isolated and mostly irrelevant group of characters and expanded it to be a literally indispensable part of the B5 mythos – without the techno-mages’ involvement, the Shadows never would’ve (inadvertently) discovered that the wife of John Sheridan, the “nexus” of their enemy’s forces, was already sitting right in their laps, making the last two seasons of the show impossible. Even more, a summation of Lorien’s involvement in the beginning of the Great Wars, a description of the Drakh’s religion (and how the Shadows fit within it), and a brief encapsulation of the Vorlons’ society are all also included. How and why did this narrative expansion come about? And how much input did Straczynski provide in this regard?

JMS definitely wanted Galen to play a critical role in the Shadow War, not to be irrelevant. It was his idea that Galen would deactivate the Eye on the Shadows’ home planet, allowing John Sheridan to make his attack with the White Star. He also wanted Elric's visit to Babylon 5 to be incorporated into the trilogy, creating a strong connection between the techno-mages and the B5 crew. He clearly wanted to show the techno-mages as part of the wider B5 universe, even though they were often doing things that most B5 characters were unaware of. Figuring out how to tie the techno-mages to the larger universe was tricky at times. Developing the Anna Sheridan plotline more was very appealing to me, since I had previously become attached to her character writing The Shadow Within. Using the wider perspectives of Lorien and Kosh helped to tie various plots together. I think the Drakh development was simply a necessity of the plot, since the Drakh play an important part in the story, and that reflected some of the material provided by Peter David.

How did you tap into another writer’s psyche so totally and so fundamentally? In reading the trilogy, it’s as if you’re channeling Straczynski and his sensibilities – your additions to his universe fit so flawlessly. Was this something intuitive and instinctive, or was it a slow and deliberate process?

Thank you. I loved the show and felt a resonance with many of JMS's themes and characters. I guess that helped. I watched the relevant episodes of Babylon 5 and Crusade many, many times, making a lot of notes and writing down much of the dialogue so I could capture how the different characters moved and spoke. I think the main reason why the trilogy may fit well into the universe is that JMS provided me with an absolutely awesome story to tell – techno-mages using Shadow tech, caught in the middle of the war. I was so excited and inspired by that, I threw myself into it totally and tried to create something worthy of that story, something that I could believe in, that dealt with themes important to me, and that fit into JMS's universe and did justice to his characters and themes.

(You can find Jeanne’s website here and information about Odyssey, her annual writing workshop, here.)




This piece is part of Marc N. Kleinhenz's The Babylon Project series of articles, which comprises essays, reviews, and interviews. The other items can be found here:

The Passing of the Techno-mages and the expansion of previous narratives
November 2009
Blue Buddha

The Lost Tales and the undermining of worldbuilding
December 2009
Blue Buddha

The Shadow Within, The Passing of the Techno-mages, and the role of technology in love
January 2010
PopLitiko

The history of Babylon, from Babylon 5 and Babylon Prime to Crusade
February 2010
PopLitiko

Sandy Bruckner and the dream of fandom
May 2010
PopLitiko

Patricia Tallman, Lyta Alexander, and the path to extremism
June 2010
PopLitiko

Matthew Gideon and the apocalypse
July 2010
PopLitiko

Maggie Egan, ISN Jane, and the craftsmanship of delivery
August 2010
PopLitiko

History and metatheater in the world of Babylon
December 2010
PopLitiko

Joe Michael Straczynski and the dark side of Babylon 5
January 2010
PopLitiko

Monday, November 29, 2010

Star Wars Hero



C'mon! This is just fun, right! Damn, a fanboy approaching 60! LOL!!

post. Credits


(american) POEMS
alex ness



(nihon no) PHOTOGRAPHS
carrie butcher-kleinhenz
marc n. kleinhenz


Sunday, November 28, 2010

five. The Charge


Under Autumn sun
In the growing cold air
When the labor is done
The grain is brought in
The family will come
And we will gather around
The great table
And give thanks
As if it is
Holy ground
We stand about
Worship
Together
The one who provides
And the land
Used as the proof
Of the providence
Of the truth
In the Creator’s hand
Thank you
We trust
In the one
Who provides
So greatly
We follow
Not because of what we get
But because of who we are
Because the creator made this world
In the image of the hand
Creating
And harvest
And we are obedient
To the charge


Saturday, November 27, 2010

four. Summer gone Autumn passing


Summer gone
Autumn passing
Winter is near
And the blessings
Felt
Are ever lasting
For we gather
With friends
With family
To give thanks
As if we could ever
Come close
To understanding
The vast mercy poured out
By the existence we could have
But rather than what we possess
So glorious the blessings
So blessed are we
To live in the land
Of golden wheat
Of abundant rain
Of beauty
Of freedom
We stand before
The threshold of knowing
That this existence
Is worthy
Of our thanks
Beyond all words
Beyond all tears
So vast
And bold
Are the blessings
Of this land


Friday, November 26, 2010

three. Thanks


I give thanks
For the food
I give thanks for the sun
I give thanks to the creator
This day of thanks is begun
Bowing as one to the providence
Of the one who made it all
For tapestry of life woven
For the threads spun
No matter our wounds
No matter our sorrows
We have this today
And expect more tomorrow
Thank you for this world
For the rains in summer time
Thank you for this place
For the oceans and swelling tides
The harvest is good
All the time
The time of thanks so small
Compared to the creator’s hand
Who ever answers
Our needful call


Thursday, November 25, 2010

two. Early Snows


The early snows
Cover the pumpkins
The children glow
With joy
The time for family
To celebrate this harvest
Is near
We are all one family
Celebrating this land
We are one in our worship
Time of thanks is at hand


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

one. The Grower and the Harvest


Working through the seasons
The hand of grower
The summer sun in August
Brings the warmth to swell the grains
The energy from the sun harnessed
Fed by the holy rains
The Autumn cool to end the season
The moon shines so large
Over the darkest night
The land giving the promise
Provided by the creator
Our work the harvest
The grain the product
We are fed by the hand
Of the creator and builder
The holy one who constructed
The world we glory in
Winter is sleep
Spring the rebirth
And we give thanks for it all
Within


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

By Syfy's Command -- Reprise


Well before Babylon 5 premiered, creator and showrunner Joe Michael Straczynski had an interesting experiment in mind: do a sequel series that was almost entirely the opposite of its progenitor show, from basing it aboard a mobile starship (as opposed to an anchored space station) to shifting its story emphasis from drama to action-adventure. And although Crusade did, indeed, end up retaining these fundamentally different characteristics, it was nonetheless a failure, as only 13 out of a proposed 110 episodes ended up being produced.

Undeterred, Straczynski made a second attempt at incorporating alternative approaches to the B5 mythos, albeit ones mixed in with more traditional or familiar elements, in the next planned show, Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers – and was met once more with rejection, this time before the transition from pilot telefilm to series proper could even be undertaken. (Unlike Crusade, however, Legend deserved its repudiation: as opposed to a refreshingly original and amazingly insightful narrative, this new show was chock full of derivative, as well as repetitive, elements, from characters to story beats to, even, its premise, making it more of an embarrassment than an accomplishment.) After a fourth planned production – the DTV anthology Babylon 5: The Lost Tales – similarly tanked after only one release, Straczynski’s sci-fi universe has remained conspicuously MIA, even in its traditionally successful print form.



The parallel to Ronald D. Moore’s reimagined Battlestar Galactica is, of course, uncanny – and not a little foreboding. With its planet-bound premise and its soap opera-influenced narrative (completely devoid of either action or tension, the twin hallmarks of BSG’s reign), Caprica couldn’t possibly have been any more different from its predecessor. Unfortunately for the series – and its executive producers, David Eick and the aforementioned Ron Moore – it was a gamble that didn’t pay off; after airing only 13 episodes, the SyFy Channel has pulled the plug, pushing the remaining five installments to sometime in the first quarter of 2011. One couldn’t get any closer to Crusade’s short life and even quicker death than this.

Hewing even more closely to the Babylonian mold, news of Cap’s cancellation was only the second part of a one-two combo the channel pulled off against its audience. After some six months of deliberation and narrative contemplation, Syfy has finally given the official green light to a new Battlestar production that, while a standalone telefilm, will double as a backdoor pilot for a full-fledged series (much as the original show’s two-part miniseries did, and much as Legend’s movie-of-the-week, “To Live and Die in Starlight,” attempted to do). Called Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, the movie is set approximately 40 years before BSG and 18 years after Caprica. In what can most likely be seen as a course correction at the behest of the network, this new take on Moore’s re-envisioned universe is – surprise, surprise – set aboard the battlestar Galactica and stars young Ensign William “Husker” Adama as he begins his career as a Cylon-fighting and toaster-hating officer.



If there would seem to be a great deal of overlap to the movie Razor and its corresponding webisode series, Razor: Flashbacks, which chronicled Lieutenant Adama’s first dogfight in the Cylon War, that’s because there certainly is – along with the increased potential for the continuity gaffes and narrative contradictions that Battlestar has became renown for in the seven years since its premiere. There is also, of course, a lot of area for redundant storytelling with the now-inchoate Caprica (just where was that series supposed to have ended – ten years before the war? Ten years after?), not to mention BSG itself; both Blood & Chrome’s writer/producer and Syfy execs have already promised a return to the “full-throttle” suspense of Ron Moore’s first baby, just as The Legend of the Rangers attempted to incorporate more overt references to Babylon 5. If the premise isn’t particularly promising, the franchise’s continuing and quite unintentional allusions to Straczynski’s meandering series of series are even less so.

Ultimately, however, whether a (more-or-less) direct repeat of the first show works or not, it’s simply a shame that the against-the-grain Caprica was stricken down before it could find its footing, let alone reach its prime (just as it is a shame that, apparently, no Battlestar story can be told without somehow featuring the character of Adama to one [blatant] degree or another). That the Syfy Channel is sending very loud and clear signals to the writing staff to eschew subtlety and embrace the (melo)dramatic is not a particularly reassuring development, either, proving that “all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again” is quite the production mantra as well as the dramatic conceit.

Let’s just hope that once Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome is cancelled, Battlestar Galactica: The Lost Tales will fare at least partially better.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 20 and beyond

I am done for now, I have some material left but not enough to remain doing the reviews daily. That and I am exhausted by various things, and am somewhat under the weather.

But life is good, I have no doubts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Farewells and Diminishments


I guess I am what you can call the obsessive-compulsive type. If there is something that strikes my fancy, I have to look into it – which usually (and quickly) devolves into buying binges at the local Barnes & Noble (where they really like me), followed by several studious months of reading and dissecting and digesting, driving everyone around me crazy in the process. This holds equally true for, say, the history of foreign policy – a recent acquisition to my nerdy repository of passions – as well as Batman, cinematic theory as well as Abraham Lincoln.

It is a tendency that is perhaps best illustrated by my 14-year love affair with IGN. At the risk of repeating myself, I have been a constant and devoted reader since the site’s inception in the N64.com days (you know, back during the Dark Ages of the Information Superhighway), literally visiting every week since then. I know more than I should care to admit about Matt Casamassina’s family, about the trials and tribulations of Daemon Hatfield’s love life, about the multiple personalities of Scott Bromley. I can recite the mantra of the Cheese Buddha, was witness to the birth of Eye Tat Boy, and have fond memories of GameSages, short-lived as it was. I’m friends with most every single IGN employee on Facebook (prompting at least one of them to message me with the question, “Are you a coworker that I have yet to meet?”) and even am friends with a few of them in what is generally referred to as real life.

All of which goes a long way to explaining my sense of emotional attachment to the site and its editorial staff. I have listened to their voices, whether figuratively, in the guise of reviews and interviews and columns, or literally, in the prodigious amount of podcasts they generate, for several years or more in most cases; they have come to form a familiar, almost familial presence, even if on the periphery of my (gaming) life. This is particularly true of the ones who have made most, if not all, of the incredibly long journey with me: Jeremy Dunham, Chris Roper, Dave Clayman, the aforementioned Casa. It is a litany that obviously doubles as an endangered species list, as most of these individuals have long since wandered off of the path to (hopefully) greener pastures, forming a scene in my mind’s eye of a sad funeral procession shuffling along to a maudlin dirge. And the melodrama isn’t actually that much of a stretch – each loss truly is a loss, significantly lessening not only IGN’s roster and caliber of creative types, but also impacting my enjoyment and, to a very real extent, my personal investment in the site. “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,” John Donne famously wrote. “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Now, it saddens me to say, the bell tolls for Craig Harris (and, incidentally, senior editor Erik Brudvig, as well, who also marks today as his last with the company). Although not an IGN founder, Craig was one of the very first wave of employees hired immediately afterwards, some 13-and-a-half years ago. He has called the Saturn, PlayStation, and no less than three Nintendo channels home at one point or another, becoming, in the process, the site’s handheld steward extraordinaire for most of his tenure – an accomplishment only topped by his being named executive editor of all things Nintendo just over a year ago (replacing the late Casamassina, who now resides in the house Steve Jobs built). He has written over one thousand(!) reviews, been a constant presence on Game Scoop! – hands-down the best gaming podcast floating about the cyber ether – and has mastered the fine art of segues. To say that his career with IGN was an accomplished one is a vast understatement, one almost as large and as obvious as saying that he will be missed.

Everything from his personality to his work ethic, his stammering fountain of gaming trivia to his insistence on stocking the IGN break room with retro systems will be an incredibly and impossibly difficult void to fill; the website, particularly the Nintendo sections, will never quite feel or perform the same again. But it’s not just his personal absence, as potent as it may be, that is so disquieting about this turn of events – it’s also the generational changing of the guard that it signals; after Craig, there are only an extremely, precious few “originals” left, VP and publisher Peer Schneider chief among them (and when he leaves, I’m really going to be hard hit). It is, sadly, only a matter of time before he or Tal Blevins or someone else joins the funeral procession, and once that happens, either the site will continue on with an entirely new cast of characters – the gaming journalist equivalent of The X-Files or Stargate in their final seasons – or it will simply (and completely) shut down. Either way, IGN will obliviously never be the same, and I’ll face the very real prospect for the first time in nearly a decade-and-a-half of moving on myself towards that great blue horizon.

As the bell finishes its latest round of tolling, I offer my most sincere thanks and well-wishes to one of the most dedicated and amiable (despite his cranky moniker) correspondents in the gaming world – and I commend the passing of an era at IGN.

* * * * *

Fortunately for me, I do not have to do any commending by myself.

When hearing of Craig’s departure, I gathered a chorus of voices to help send him off, individuals who have already made the transition themselves, for one reason or another, to a post-IGN life. Think of it like the scene from What Dreams May Come when Robin Williams is welcomed to the afterlife by a slew of familiar faces (disguised as other familiar faces). This is your welcoming committee, Craig Harris.


Chris Roper
Then: executive editor, PlayStation channels
Now: community specialist, Zipper Interactive

No matter how many handhelds are ever released and regardless of who goes on to fill his shoes, Craig will forever own the journalistic record of the largest-man-to-smallest-game-system. I look at it like Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak – no one will beat it, and even attempting to ever do such a thing would be foolish.


Dave Clayman
Then: executive editor, Insider
Now: associate brand manager, Bethesda Softworks

Craig is one of those rare people who has first-hand knowledge of the history of gaming. From pinball machines to Tiger Electronics handhelds, he’s played it all. Probably better than anyone, Craig knows the stories and the people behind game development, and I hope he continues to spread his wealth of knowledge.


Rus McLaughlin
Then: features freelancer
Now: staff writer, Bitmob.com

Craig always drives to E3. The rest of the IGN office flies, but Craig likes a roadtrip, and one year I piled in, riding shotgun, while, in the back, Jack DeVries slept and Mark Ryan Sallee complained about "bombs in the bushes" ruining his blatant coin farming in the Zelda DS game he played the whole way down. We were packed up tight with all our gear, luggage for a week, consoles other editors had begged Craig to transport for them, and a gold mine of junk food the likes of which mankind is unlikely to see again. I'm proud to say I never once saw the man eat healthy, though he also wore one of those Nike + iPod Sport Kit pedometers throughout the entire week.

It's my understanding more than a few people gave Craig a hard time about his decision to make that 500-mile trip by car, but Craig being Craig, he didn't care. He wanted to drive, so he drove.

It so happened that this particular year, the entire rest of the office got hit with a major delay at the airport. They all spent three hours stuck at SFO while Craig detoured us miles off 101 to indulge his Sonic drive-in food fixation. Even at our (by my standards) leisurely pace, we still beat everybody else to the hotel and were already checked in by the time their airport taxis started trickling in.

Craig, not undeservedly, gloated. All week long.


Sam Bishop
Then: in-house freelancer
Now: editor-in-chief, TotalPlayStation.com

Ah, Mr. Crankypants, I thought that I'd get to work with you just one more time before you departed for bigger things than IGN. Alas, I'll have to take comfort in the fact that, despite what seemed like yearly changes to the staff at the one-time Imagine Games Network, you were always a constant. Craig was there through the Affiliation Network days, the Snowball days, the "what is reality? I don't know" days, the dot-com boom, the dot-com bust, the dozens-upon-dozens-of-Aeron-chairs-sitting-in-the-lobby-of-a-building-too-huge-for-the-staff days. Whatever tongue-in-cheek comments about Craig's demeanor you may have heard were just that: jibes made in the friendliest of spirits, because Craig Harris was (at least for me) one of those people that I always looked forward to seeing – not just at events, but when I was lucky enough to come into the office and work alongside him over the decade-plus that I dabbled with in-house IGN opportunities. Though I may never have been a proper staffer, Craig was one of those guys that never made me like it.

Here's to the future, buddy. If you happen to read this, know you made an impact on at least one goofy schmuck's life, and it was without a doubt a good one.


Jeremy Dunham
Then: editor-in-chief
Now: senior community manager, Zipper Interactive

Craig will eat anything for money. It's true! If you ever run into him, offer him Gil, Meseta, or the currency of your choice to eat whatever you can find, and, chances are that if it's enough, he'll do it. His stomach is made out of cast iron, I think.

Eating feats aside, Craig was a great asset to IGN. He knew gaming history incredibly well and he plays most everything that comes out. What I like about him most is that he speaks his mind; there's no facade with Craig, and he finds no shame in admitting that he likes or dislikes something. He's absolutely real, a little too obsessed with green kangaroo pictures and memorabilia (really!), and is a heck of a nice guy. Look at the outpouring of farewells from IGN readers – it proves how much he meant to them. That doesn't happen with everybody (some people still think I work at IGN 13 months after I left, for example). One other thing that needs to be said: Craig holds the record for most IGN reviews ever written and probably always will, since he set it a few years back.

Most importantly, though, he isn't dead – he has needs like eating and paying rent – and he knows what he's talking about, so I hope he ends up somewhere that can take advantage of his experience and skill set; there are plenty of people out there who could use him, that's for sure. Good luck, dude.


Douglass C. Perry
Then: executive editor, Xbox channels
Now: editorial director, Metacafe.com

We hired Craig Harris at IGN in 1997 and, at first, I wondered why. Here was this pro-East Coast guy (you know the kind – "East Coast Pizza is better, Dunkin' Donuts rules," blahdy blahdy blah) who was lazy and argumentative. He had barely held a job prior to IGN, and Chris Charla, our EIC at the time, had interviewed this no-name guy from New Jersey. I thought to myself, "Great – we're a start-up, and this guy has issues with change." I was flummoxed.

It turned out Craig knew his games and was quite proud of the fact that he could not be beaten at Konami's Track and Field. It turns out Craig had fast, highly-trained button-mashing fingers that few could match. Seriously! :) I weighed this in with the negatives, and when I realized our little team in 1997 was a rag-tag bunch anyway, I knew Craig fit right in. His first job was as associate editor at SaturnWorld.com, IGN's second full site, after N64.com (which I ran), and was followed by PSXPower.com.

Craig earned lots of nicknames over the years – Crabby Craig, Crotchety Craig, and "that ferret-loving guy," but "Cranky Craig" stuck for obvious reasons. During one of our first E3s (1997), only half the staff could attend because of strained costs, and Craig, along with Matt Casamassina and Randy Nelson, had to stay behind. We saw the games and sent in the stories via email, and the guys back at the office would stamp and post the images and post the stories. Craig said, straight-up, "I'm not stamping them." (But he did.) For the next five years, that became a rally cry in the office when we saw Craig. Instead of "Good morning, Craig," it was, "Hey Craig... I'm not stamping them!" followed by a roomful of laughter.

Craig grew up at IGN. Over time, Craig found his niche as the retro guy, the Nintendo guy (along with Matt), and the handheld guy. Craig always had a penchant for new technology, and, at one point, he was developing a game for the Game Boy, which he was chronicling for IGN. He learned to balance his gaming tendencies (i.e., playing games all day) with his journalism responsibilities (writing more) and became a go-to guy for anything old-school, anything Nintendo. In time, Craig became our very own Cranky Craig, the Nintendo nerd who was no longer so cranky and upsettable, but knowledgeable, conversational, and fun to hang out with.

In the last handful of years, Craig ran the Nintendo channel and, to my delight, has stepped up the championing of new developers, new games, and unpublished studios. When I researched 5th Cell for an article on how it got its start, I was happy to see that Craig was one of the first to report on the studio's breakthrough DS titles. Google his name: you'll find he is associated with dozens of breakthrough studios.

I spent 11 years at IGN. Trying to fathom 14 years seems impossible. I am happy Craig has had a long, fruitful, and deep tenure at IGN, and I personally will miss seeing his name on all those Nintendo stories. IGN won't be the same without him. I wish Craig the best of luck wherever he goes and am proud to have worked with him all those years.

Go get 'em, Cranky.

Day 19, Holiday Reviewarama: The products of Diminuendo Press

Diminuendo Press

The point here is not to say everyone loves poetry, but that for everyone who loves poetry there are many kinds of books you should consider. I write some, so do friends of mine. One of my publishers is Diminuendo Press. I recommend them for their vision and selection of books. Here are a few to consider.







Order from the publisher directly to support its publishing choices, and to support authors who might be missing from Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Diminuendo Press

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 18, Holiday Reviewarama: The products of Rogue Blades Entertainment


So you like swords and magic and fantasy tales?

How about great mythic beasts?



Or how about gladiators, warriors in cage matches, proud people fighting great battles?



Adventurers? Warriors? Kings and Knights? Barbarians?



How about battles against Demons?



Then go to Rogue Blades Entertainment...



CLICK HERE FOR THE WILD RIDE OF ACTION AND ADVENTURE.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 17, Holiday Reviewarama: The Holy Qur'an




I know a lot of people who claim to know what the motives of those who are followers of Islam are. And, even should they be the least bit correct, I've never met one who knows anything about the religious words of the belief system of Islam, nor, the history of it. I try, as I did yesterday with George W. Bush's memoir, Decision Points, to give people a good reason to buy or acquire as a gift or loan an item. In this case the lack of knowledge regarding Islam in the West is vast, and the need to understand Islam is great. What better way to grow, intellectually, and perhaps spiritually than to read the Holy Qur'an?

At least the debates in America about religious centers, Ground Zero, and terrorism will be enhanced by even the smallest addition of knowledge. Because people who are on the left and right of the political spectrum all demonstrate remarkable lack of understanding of the religion and its followers.

I'll return tomorrow with something neither religious or political. So if the last two entries didn't please you, come back and check.

Day 16, Holiday Reviewarama: DECISION POINTS George W. Bush



I try to avoid overtly political posts here, for the reason that politics do not unite, don't create consensus and politics rarely help us come to any sort of moral decision. More and more the world is divided amongst groups and cliques and tribes, and no matter how modern we are, the US and Western countries are just as likely to separate on the lines of politics, religious faith and world view as any other...

But I think this book, however well written or not, is important. It isn't because I agree with the acts and decisions of former President Bush. Because I truly do not. It isn't because I am looking for ammunition for eventual arguments with people who don't agree with my views, from the left or right. It is because the world was subject to the decisions of this man, and for years we've been given his motives from bits and pieces and talking heads on television and radio and internet. In my life I've seen great presidents and bad. And I know people who thought Bush was tainted by impossible obstacles to success, and others who say he created such obstacles, and he made the situation worse than it would have ever been.

As a degreed historian I am quite sure that his decisions will be laid bare for motive and result for the next century. But cause and effect in the present and recent past are hard to distill no matter the motive of the scholar. So, for however right or wrong the author Bush is, at least the words come from him, directly, and if you hate him or love him, you can be assured that this is going to be a subject for debate beyond polite web discussions.

If you dislike him just get it from the library. If you like him, buy a dozen copies. I am not interested in how you get it, but for the discussions in the future, get it...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 15, Holiday Reviewarama Button Man by Rebellion UK




BUTTON MAN
John Wagner & Frazer Irving
"Book IV: The Hitman's Daughter"
2000 AD #1551-1566, 2007

The Publisher

Harry Exton is a Button Man. One of a number of them. These "Button Men"are part of a dangerous, deadly, violent game. A voice directs them to the others, and the hunt begins. The object of the game is to kill your opponent obviously, but if they capture the opponent they take a finger, or joint. Once three have been taken, the result is death. But while Harry Exton is a Button Man, he is not altogether like the others. He isn't totally crushed by the work he does. He still has some ethics, if not, altogether, morals. This volume of the overall story follows a double cross between friends, alliances between otherwise enemies, and personal decisions that make this a wild ride and violent game.

This book was very well written and illustrated. It was a cinematic work, with very able story telling. Very impressive. But, for the great quality of it, it has an expensive cover price. But, for anyone enjoying the spy genre, or action films, this is one very fun ride.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day 14, Holiday Reviewarama Judge Dredd the complete case files volume 15



Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files v. 15
John Wagner, Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon

The Publisher REBELLION UK


Writing about each story would be rather impossible for me, not because they weren't good, but rather because there were so many of them, and so many aspects of them that make that consideration a book unto itself. When the publisher calls this the complete case files, they mean COMPLETE.

Judge Dredd goes back a long way, and there are various works collecting his appearances, and this is devoted to his self titled series, and the Judge Dredd Megazine. When you think vigilante you think Batman. When you think protector of everyone you think Spider-Man. When you think keeper of the law, you either think of Superman or Judge Dredd. As such you need to keep in context the world of Judge Dredd as it does affect the law he lays down. Mega-City is as violent and crazed as possible, being a satirical version of future New York, with the odd takes of culture from the perspective of writers and artists from the UK.

This is fun book, it is violent and humorous, and goes way beyond entertaining, but, in buying it for yourself or others you still should take into account the audience. If you like violent stories this is good. If you prefer more cerebral work, this is not your series.

The art and story both are incredible, and again Rebellion kicks much butt with their standards of production.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day 13 of November, but no review? WTF?

Sorry, my son had an accident and was burned and had to have surgery. My time is scarce, so I am taking what I hope to be a one day break.

In the meantime, here is a pic to make you laugh. Or be outraged, whatever works...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Day 12, Holiday Reviewarama Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 2 from Archaia




Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 1 and 2
Thomas Siddell

Someone told me once that my reviews were more like PR with a slight difference that I brought my opinions into works and hoped to give people reasons to like what I was discussing. My buddy Michael May said my reviews were like a carrot, and a person who wrote, rather negatively upon his then site Comic Book News was like the stick. I rather agree, but not that reviewing is actually either/or, since the person I'd read for reviews is Michael May, who is both carrot and stick. You can smash people over the head for the creative talent or publishers not doing what you like, or give them reason to do it well by supporting them when they succeed.

Thereby, I am at a loss here, because I think this is a really good work, but it really DIDN'T strike my taste zone. It involves students in a bizarre magic training school, somewhat like the Harry Potter books but suitably different to be its own work. But, having referenced the Potter books, I didn't like those much, and this work is not the same so, entering in to read I had hope. The writing was intelligent and worth praising, the characters seemed well developed and the dialogue and plots were very nicely done. The art mixes animé fusion and straight forward western comic book styles. It is pleasant to look at.




But, ultimately, while I think that this is a work that is sincerely done, smartly aimed, intelligent and nice to look at, it isn't my taste being written towards. So, I give it a full recommendation to someone who likes Harry Potter, but add Johny Test from Cartoon Network and then wrap it in some beautiful production work by Archaia.

My guess is the target audience is more female, is young adult, and would be a welcome addition to most high school libraries across the US and the English speaking world.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day 11, Holiday Reviewarama JAPANESE CULTURE

Today’s recommendation comes from a desire to share something that changed my life. In 1991 when I graduated from university I had no idea what I would do other than write. I wanted to make a living sure but, my skills and talents were nowhere near what the real world wanted. I could write poems well, and I knew about history. Big deal. I’d sent out hundreds of resumes and frankly, I never was a great employee, but even with a college degree living in a place where that was rare, no one wanted me to even think about working for them. So I decided to take the time I had to reinvest in my self. I read hundreds of books and dove directly in to Japanese culture. Doing so gave me a mindset to address some issues I had, gave me a hope of how to use my skills and talents, and led me to getting accepted in Grad school where I finished a Master’s degree and led to further things down the road. I viewed my religious life, academic life, private life, sexual life all through a very different lens. And I am grateful to have done so.

So here are some works to consider if you wish to change your life similarly, or, just to give a fan of the culture something to smile about.

THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS

Author link
Buy It




THE SWORD and THE MIND

Author link
Buy It



JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY

About the Ceremony
Buy It



THE SOLITUDE OF RAVENS

Photographer link
Try to Buy It

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 10, Holiday Reviewarama DAYS MISSING from Archaia and Roddenberry


DAYS MISSING
Phil Hester, Frazer Irving, David Hine,
Chris Burnham, Ian Edginton, Lee Moder,
Matz, Hugo Petrus, Dale Keown

Steward is a being who has existed through history, changed human event, manipulated things so that humans could go on, also, so that events that happened might not. As a result of the futzing with human events, there are "Days Missing" from existence, entirely. As in zapped. YOINK.

The stories told in this volume are really very interesting, and, more interestingly, tell the stories that are perhaps tangential to a central theme, a broad single minded plot. And, it is to me a very fresh approach. I don't really always like a story or universe idea enough to read episodes in the development of the grand tale. But here, I see the world around the edges, I see a portion and fragment here, a piece there. And by doing so I am able to see more, without being force fed a plot or idea. Instead it is an organic organization of information.

The writing and artistic talent on this work is stellar, and the production standards show in the nearly perfect presentation here. For an introductory chapter of what will be a longer work, I think it succeeds brilliantly.

However, I suspect some people require force fed story, force fed recognizable pathways. So, if you aren't the sort to enjoy differently told tales, this might not work for you. But I promise if you let it work, it does, and nicely so.

From the Publisher

Since the beginning of time, there has existed a being whose interaction and interference with mankind has shaped human history. His powers of time and intellect have allowed his secrecy and resulted in certain days being absent from any historical record. Their stories have never been told. Their details have never been documented. Their existence is not remembered. But, the occurrences of these days have forever changed the course of humanity's evolution. These are the Days Missing from our existence, and they are about to be revealed.