Saturday, June 30, 2012

Things & Stuff.

Here you can see part of my library/collection.. The shelves aren't finished yet.. cause well.. lumber is expensive. As you can notice, the books only continue up to the early H's.. the rest continues in the hallway. That's also only about a fifth of my total Transformers collection.. but I got tired of dusting them and put the rest in storage.

Friday, June 29, 2012

What If?: The Sunbow-DIC Universe.

Following a recent joke on David J. West's blog about the name of a Cobra fronted Rock band, Cold Slither, I got to thinking about the Sunbow cartoons of the 80's and 90's and how they connect.

It's no secret that, Transformers, GIJOE, Jem and the Holograms, The Inhumanoids, and even My little Pony*, take place in the same universe. There are canonical connections that link the series together, albeit loosely,  But there are other shows from a second company known as DIC which also clearly have connections beyond the 3rd and 4th seasons of G.I.Joe. Some of these shows have shared connections for a very long time, some of them have only recently been reconnected into the universe. An example of these sorts of shows, from DiC, which find themselves in this universe now are C.O.P.S. which takes place roughly contemporaneous with Transformers: Victory (one of the Japanese only series, and is connected to G.I.JOE due to one of the characters being a descendent of the G.I.Joe, Beachhead) and M.A.S.K.. which in itself was something of a hybrid G.I.Joe & Transformers show.. even with vaguely snake themed villain, V.E.N.O.M. 

The most interesting one, which I'm particularly curious about, but have not quite gotten around to buying and watching, would be 1992's Animated Conan the Adventurer/Conan and the Young Warriors. Which, features the doughty Cimmerian striking down a snake cult which bears quite a few similarities to the villains of the G.I.Joe Movie, Cobra La.. the last vestige of a once globe spanning bio-organic insectoid-reptoid empire which was destroyed initially by the Ice age.. and then, you guessed it.. by hordes of Barbarian Humans.  We already have pseudo Old Ones in the series courtesy of the Inhumanoids.. in the form of Tendril.

Conan the Adventurer was produced by Christy Marx, the same person who produced and wrote a great number of the other series in this continuity.. and it adds a great sense of depth to a world in which there are so damn many snake cults. COBRA, V.E.N.O.M, and if you want to stretch it to include bug themes, obviously more popular in the 2020's, you have the various insect villains of C.O.P.S and the Stingers of Jem and the Holograms.

There is of course other precedent for this. Conan was a licensed property with an extensive comic series from Marvel Comics, who also created the comics for G.I.Joe and The Transformers.. both of which are at least superficially in the Marvel Comics universe, and all of which have designators in the current Multiverse Scheme.. To really throw your head out of whack, consider that not only did the Marvel Conan cross over with Moorcock's Elric, thus bringing in all of HIS multiverse.. but the Marvel Multiverse has also crossed over repeatedly with the DC Comics Multiverse.. and has been visited by The Doctor on numerous occasions. I promise, if you think about this too hard your head will start to hurt and your nose will probably bleed.

So here is my, prototype timeline for the Marvel/Hasbro/Sunbow/DiC universe. Some of these dates are in the shows themselves, and others are the result of some creativity. Jem is never specifically mentioned as to when it takes place, however, due to characters from Transformers Masterforce meeting with some characters from JEM, and News reports of Inhumanoid Attacks being show in various episodes.. it's pretty obvious it takes place AFTER Transformers is over.. The truly curious thing is, that by this point in the sunbow/DiC universe.. not only do we have the Earth Defense Command.. but the Soviet Union still exists.. as late as the 2020's. I suppose on a world with Snake themed Terrorist organizations, ancient evils spawning from the ground and Giant Robots from outer space waging civil war in our backyards.. quite a lot of things would be different.

Edit: #1 these dates are the dates the shows Occurred, not the dates the shows Aired.

Flashbacks from G.I.Joe The Movie         - 40,000bce    Sunbow/Toei
Conan - The Adventurer             -         Sunbow/Graz
Conan - And the Young Warriors         -         Sunbow/Graz
G.I.Joe - The Mass Device              - 1983        Sunbow/Toei
G.I.Joe - The Revenge of Cobra         - 1984        Sunbow/Toei
The Transformers - More than Meets the Eye            Sunbow/Toei
G.I.Joe - Season 1                 - 1985        Sunbow/Toei
The Transformers - Season 1                     Sunbow/Toei
G.I.Joe - Season 2                - 1986        Sunbow/Toei
The Transformers - Season 2                    Sunbow/Toei
G.I.Joe - The Movie                 - 1987         Sunbow/Toei
G.I.Joe - Season 3                 - 1988        DiC
G.I,Joe - Season 4                 - 1989        DiC
M.A.S.K - Season 1                         DiC
G.I.Joe - Sgt. Savage and his Screaming Eagles    - 1994        Sunbow
M.A.S.K - Season 2                         DiC
G.I.Joe Extreme                 - 1995        Sunbow
The Transformers - The Movie             - 2005        Sunbow/Toei
The Transformers - Season 3             - 2006         Sunbow/Toei
The Transformers - Season 4             - 2007         Sunbow/Toei
The Transformers - The Headmasters         - 2010        Toei
The Transformers - Masterforce         - 2019        Toei
Jem and the Holograms - Season 1                Sunbow/Toei
Jem and the Holograms - Season 2         - 2020         Sunbow/Toei
Inhumanoids - Season 1             - 2021        Sunbow/Toei
Jem and the Holograms - Season 3                Sunbow/Toei
The Transformers - Victory             - 2025        Toei
C.O.P.S. - Season 1                         DiC
Robotix - The Movie                         Sunbow/Toei

* this is the result of a throw-away gag in one episode of my little pony.. where a sailor who looks suspiciously like Shipwreck from G.I.Joe is seen drinking out of a brown paper bag, which he then smashes upon seeing the ponies fly across the evening sky.. vowing to swear off drinking forever.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tolkien and Wilfred Owen

 Since fellow blogger Brian Murphy asked, and encouraged, I thought the least I could do is follow through and post this. Granted, I realize it is not perhaps a great paper, and will likely do nothing to further Tolkien studies (or Owen Studies for that matter) it did get me a 91.. there are a few errors, but I don't happen to have access to the graded paper on any longer now that the class is over. So, Tolkien aficionados and masters, please go easy on me.. I'm sure I made mistakes.. but I am after all only an enthusiast.. and desperately was trying to find a way to tie something I enjoyed into yet another boring freshman paper.. so if you have any constructive criticisms to offer I am of course all ears, as I will be writing many, many more papers over the remaining years of my college career, and am always looking for ways to improve.

Eng 1102
18th April 2012 
“Tears Unnumbered”
                War is a grand undertaking, perhaps even the grandest, but it is also the most futile. The desire to wage armed conflict, to willingly distress and demolish another’s country is to confess a uniquely selfish worldview. Wars tend to begin not on the front lines, but in offices in national capitols. The people who start the war, do not fight the war, and thus do not truly understand the nature of war. However, the people who fight the war are left with a great deal of time to pontificate on their situation. They wonder why they are there, what the people fighting on the other side are really like, and if perhaps it is not more likely that their alleged foes are just people like them. The soldier has time to write letters, though censored, to their loved ones at home. Anthony Fletcher asks the poignant question, “What did men confess and what did they conceal, how far did they relate life as it really was? Tones of reassurance were crafted, omissions were adopted in response to degrees of anxiety at home.” (1)Ultimately, historians cannot know exactly what the individual thoughts of a soldier were, but a level of certainty can be gleaned by carefully reading the letters, poems, and stories produced by soldiers. If one is judicious in their reading of soldiers poetry, stories and letters, a common theme begins to emerge. The overriding theme is that of futility. This theme is of the loss and futility of armed conflict as seen by those who witness it at its basest level, quite literally in this case by the people in the trenches, and is brought home repeatedly in a myriad of disparate genres, by a veritable cornucopia of writers.

                One of the most spectacular battles of World War 1 was the Somme offensive, “Opening on 1 July 1916, the Battle of the Somme was the Anglo-French attempt to break through the German lines by means of a massive infantry assault” (Gilbert, 258), its legend has grown due to its grotesque casualty rate, “20,000 British soldiers were killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme” (Gilbert, 541). But its horror and callous lack of humanity caused writers and poets to spring up with great alacrity. It was during this battle or others like it that Soldier-writers created art in the midst of this chaos and death. These writers created under horrendous conditions, during stolen seconds of peace, or in the wards of convalescent hospitals while recovering from illness or injury. Heather Lusty, in her paper, Shaping the National Voice, pontificates on the nature of the soldier poet,
Their poetry became a way for these soldiers to refashion their war experiences and express them via a new medium, allowing each of them to reconnect with the world and reconstruct their personal identities in a different world. These poets also reveal their own anxieties about their own participation in the war, the responsibility each bore for the lives and losses of their men, and the pressures of class and rank, all of which contributed to the specific manifestations of their psychological and traumatic reactions to the war. ( 7)
It is always worth keeping in mind just what conditioned these writers worked under. This essential context can bring tremendous insight to the reader, turning them from passive consumers, into critical thinkers.

Wilfred Owen is one such writer. In his poem “Dulce et Decorum est”, often considered one of the greatest poems to emerge from World War 1, Owen writes a graphic and chilling description of a poison gas attack. Providing the reader a grotesquely detailed glimpse of what happened when a soldier was unable to secure his protective gear in time. It is not the gas attack, or the soldier’s death, which makes the poem so moving, but the anger that Owen seethes with and directs at the warmongers at home, which truly makes the poem great. Here is a man who is willing to buck the demanded patriotism to write down his true feelings about the waste of war. Owen writes in the final stanza a bitter renunciation of this callow call for duty and glory,
“My Friend you would not tell with such high zest
To Children desperate for some ardent glory,
The old lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.” (1)

When this Latin phrase is translated, it reads: “it is a sweet and fitting thing to die for your country” (Ward, 18). In Owen’s capable hands this exultation to duty and sacrifice for the homeland drips with cynicism and irony. John Hughes writes in his own analysis of the poem, “the undeflectable intensity and antiwar intent of “Dulce et Decorum Est,” and Owen’s concern, as he said, with unconsoling truthfulness” (1) and I cannot help but agree with this summation of the poem. Further echoes of this understanding are provided by writer Max Saunders when he writes “Like much First World War writing, the poem is not only about the horror of war; the need to represent that horror with unflinching realism, so that what Owen called ‘the pity of war’ can be weighed, and rendered without euphemism or sentimentality.” (62) This leaves one conclusion, Owen is writing this heart-wrenching tale in order to provide the audience with as accurate a picture as possible, to convey the event as closely to the truth as he is able, in an effort to show how pointless this death was.

This leads us to Owen as a writer. Candace Ward writes in her introduction to a short collection of Owen’s poetry that, “Owen’s poetic skills were honed by the nature of his war experiences”. (18) Owing to the realism  it truthfully seems as if he has poured a great quantity of experience and anguish into his work, but due to the lack of any sentiment except anger his poem nearly comes across as callous during his blunt and straight forward rendering of a man’s death, and the non chalant way in which his comrades react to it.

                In contrast to Owen’s starkly unsentimental realism, a very different sort of writer emerged from the same conflict, indeed separated from Owen by scant miles, the two men, both commissioned second lieutenants, and both sharing a fondness for the language of their Anglo-Saxon ancestors, this writer was J.R.R. Tolkien. Whereas Owen wrote with a realist’s pen, Tolkien wrote with stylus of Fantasy. Tolkien, who, after the war went on to create the world of Middle-Earth as described in his books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings among others, was not immune from the seeping influence of his experiences in the trenches. Tolkien’s painful memories of the war are particularly present when his characters cross the region known as “The Dead Marshes” in The Lord of the Rings,
“’I don’t know, ‘ said Frodo in a dreamlike voice. ‘But I have seen them too. In the pools when the candles were lit. They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and eil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead. A fell light is in them.’ Frodo hid his eyes in his hands.” (627)

Following this line of thought that what Tolkien is describing is a memory of his experiences in the Somme it is useful to look at other sources. One such source is John Garth, who writes in his book Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle Earth, “Tolkien’s description of the Dead Marshes, a scene of morbid desolation that has become, in effect, a short hand symbol for the trenches”. (311) In this short passage the reader can catch a glimpse of the horror which the men on the western front encountered on a daily basis. Even though the book is a fantasy and it tells the story of invented characters experiencing this horror while inhabiting an invented world, the overwhelming grotesqueness that is present is equal to the stark realism present in Owen’s poem. Ultimately, as Tolkien winds down his story and his characters, returned from the war, now diminished are unable to escape their experiences the reader is left wondering what it must have been like for the real life men whom the author based his characters upon. Even though one is written as Fantasy with a dash of sentimentalism and the other an unsentimental injection of Realism, the sense of loss and the futile nature of war is equally present if the reader cares to look.

This complex frustration and anger at loss and senseless violence that is present in both Owen and Tolkien, and many other writers who have lived through war, is, while not always consistently apparent always seems to be just below the surface if you know where to look. I believe that author and Doctor Mark J. Stillman, in his analysis of war writers, sums up the situation best, “If we listen carefully and ignore the incessant drone of ever beating drums, we might catch wind of distant voices from the past, sometimes speaking foreign tongues, but relating the same elegiac tale. Each distinct voice belongs to a chorus echoing the ageless anger of Achilles.” (485) Though subtle, especially in works that are not presented as realistic, this anger is present. It tends to be directed at the needless loss of compatriots at the whims of politicians who sit safe behind the lines, and order men to their deaths. Nevertheless, like so many others, the war claimed Owen’s life scant days before the armistice was signed. Tolkien narrowly escaped that fate due to illness. Both Wilfred Owen and J.R.R. Tolkien experienced similar situations during their own private experience in war. These two writer’s stories and experiences have been preserved for posterity, and every year thousands of people read them and they perhaps enrich some. The writers have shown us the truth, fantastically or realistically, that war is a dirty, messy business in which lives are ruined, typically for naught, and the lot of the common soldier to cope with this reality is their greatest strength. These writers beseech the reader  not, not to listen to the drums of war, and certainly not to feel patriotism towards one’s country, But to be circumspect in your desire, either to take up arms against another or seen someone else to do it in their stead. It is up to the readers to come to terms with this idea and make the most of it in their own lives, while not succumbing to the incessantly beating drums of those who are ever ready to send soldiers to die on some far away field, be it for a few yards of ground or a few pennies off the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Works Cited.
Fletcher, Anthony. "Between The Lines." History Today 59.11 (2009): 45-51.                                        Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.

Garth, John. Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle Earth. 1st edition. New York: Mariner Books, 2005. 310-311. Print 

Gilbert, Martin. The First World War: A Complete History. 1st edition. New York: Henry Holt and                Company, 1997. Print    
Hughes, John. "Owen's DULCE ET DECORUM EST." Explicator 64.3 (2006): 164. MasterFILE Premier.          Web. 6 Apr. 2012.

Lusty, Heather. “Shaping the National Voice: Poetry of WWI” Journal of Modern Literature30.1 (2006): 199-209. Project Muse. Web. 24 Mar. 2012.

Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum est”  Literature: an introduction to reading and writing. 5th compact edition. Edgar V. Roberts, Robert Zweig. New York: Longman an imprint of Pearson, 2012. 625. Print. 

Saunders, Max. "Friendship And Enmity In First World War Literature." Literature & History 17.1                (2008): 62-77. History Reference Center. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.

Stillman, Mark J. "War Poets And The Ageless Anger Of Achilles." Military Medicine 176.5 (2011): 484-     485. Consumer Health Complete - EBSCOhost. Web. 6 Apr. 2012.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. 1954. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. 620-635. Print.   

Ward, Candace. ed. World War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg and Others. 1st edition. New York: Dover, 1997. 18. Print.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Malazan - The Journey so far.

Late last year I set myself a goal to read the entire, as of yet published, Malazan series. This includes three sub-series. Malazan: Book of the Fallen, totaling 10 volumes and thousands of pages, by Steven Erikson. The Tales of Bauchalain and Korbel Broach, a series of short novellas, also by Steven Erikson, and lastly Tales of the Malazan Empire, a much shorter series of novels by Ian C. Esslemont.

This massive series, as of this post totals 17 (soon to be 19) volumes published by Tor, or 19 (soon to be 21) by Subterranean Press. This curious publishing scheme has given me no end of fits. As I am a book collector as well as a reader, I first sought to collect all of the books in Hardcover. This proved to be prohibitively expensive, Tor published the series in hardcover sporadically, and many of the volumes are not in print any longer in that format. Subterranean Press has begun issuing high quality hardcovers as part of a subscription series but they are extremely expensive for some one on my budget. I settled for Trade Paperbacks instead. Tor, as is their wont, changed cover design with volume 9, reprinting to my knowledge only volume 1, Gardens of the Moon, in the new style, and further allowing volume 3, Midnight Tides, to slip out of print in that format totally. The Bauchalain and Korbel Broach novellas are only available in hardcover through Subterranean press, and anyone who is familiar with them know they tend to publish in limited quantities and to be very expensive, usually about 25-30$ for a 100-150page Novella. Thankfully Tor has reprinted these novellas in trade-paperback, something which not every author who releases stories through Subterranean gets, much to the chagrin of a many a K.J. Parker fan. 

Having settled on the Trade-paperback format, I spent December collecting all of the volumes then published, leaving me with a total of 13 novels and 4 novellas to read before the 4th of Ian C. Esslemont's Tales series, Orb, Sceptre, and Throne, is published.

To say that the going has been slow is an understatement. Though these books are enormous in length, none of the novels being shorter than 400 pages,  they don't seem to suffer from the needless padding that other door stopper fantasy series do. Where as other series fill their pages with moralizing philosophical tirades (Goodkind), endless repetition of neurotic behavior, pointless side-quests, and obnoxious platitudes (Jordan), or discussions on economics, religion, technology, sociological observations, and ocean travel (Drake, Elliot, and others.), this series simply piles on more and more onion like layers to the over all story. I began reading the series in January, and have thus far only completed about half of the series. Granted I've had, arguably more important, school work to finish which has held me up. That being said, depth of the storytelling present in these books has also created it's own series of roadblocks to my typical pace. To say it is dense is to compare a poundcake to a black hole.

For one, this is a shared universe, though in very narrow terms, being as I'm only about 50-60% finished with the series as it currently stands means I've not even uncovered the full story yet, but as it stands it is about the return of a Prometheus like god, who is orchestrating various power grabs all over the world in a bid to awaken another god which will free him and destroy the world in the process.. or something like that..

The series is dark (Volume 3, Memories of Ice, has as it's protagonist a migratory empire of cannibals who also rape you to death while eating you..)  but it is tempered with such a variety of characters and archetypes it never feels completely hopeless even at it's darkest.. for every dastardly evil-doer, or corrupt anti-hero there is a truly heroic character, or especially a conflicted character who rises to be a hero when the need calls. It is very, very, reminiscent of Glen Cook's "The Black Company" in that regard. The other series which it frequently reminds me of is Roger Zelazny's "Chronicles of Amber". This is frequently repeated, and for very good reason, the mark of these two series on Erikson and Esslemont is immediately, and persistently present, almost from the very beginning. If I had to compare it to another current series though, the only one I can really think of would be A Game of Thrones, but imagine the happenings of Westeros except on a global scale and stripped of the lush descriptive language down to bare bones sentence structure, which conveys only the minimum of what the reader needs leaving maximum amounts of questions unanswered.

It's effectively impossible to try and sum the series as a whole up, but I think out of all the big door stopper series, if you are a fan of Sword & Sorcery, you will find a lot to love in this world. I really really recommend the series to anyone who loves Fantasy fiction, but if you are looking for a lot of scenes of women smoothing their skirts, tugging their braids, and sipping tea while pontificating on the philosophy of free market capitalism.. then the series probably isn't for you.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Classic City Roller Girls V. Chattanooga

Tonight was the last Home Game for the Classic City Roller Girls until August, and I just couldn't miss it. Arrived a bit early and hung around outside for a while until the bout started. When it did, both teams really performed well, but the Chattanooga girls got an extremely heavy lead very very early. They shot up by about 30pts in the first 5 minutes of the bout, and completely shut down the local team. The Athens team tried their best to catch up, and wound up getting about a 1-2 final score, but it was no close match for sure.

If you've never been to a Roller Derby match, you are missing out on something unique. It's an extremely fast paced and exciting sporting event where you don't have to worry about low scores. Plus, you get your hand stamped with 70's porn staches' for re-entry into the venue should you leave at any time. It's quirky, quick, and only lasts about an Hour and  a half tops. If you're not sure your city has a team, you can check Google, it seems as if most midsize cities have at least one team, while larger cities like Atlanta occasionally have more than one.

Tonight the CCRG was also working hard to raise money for Camp Kasem, and organization run by UGA to send kids who's parents have cancer to Summer camp. I chipped in what I could as I felt it was a good cause, anyone who's had to deal with a parent who's ill, let alone a prolonged illness deserves a break now and then.

All in all another fun night out in Athens, and another reason why even though I really have no use for the state of Georgia.. I'm glad I live where I do.