A new reality TV show

Let’s all applaud the newest reality TV show . . . Surviving the College Dorm Room Race!

At least that’s my idea for a new show, after spending the weekend dodging around parents and their almost-adult children shopping for back to college supplies. I honestly thought one family in Target was about to start a full-out brawl in the towel aisle.

Furnishing a dorm room seems to have evolved into a major production since my college years. Families with a set budget waste a portion of that budget racing from Target to Bed Bath and Beyond to Best Buy to the malls, all so their sons and daughters can have the latest, greatest, color-coordinated and stylish dorm room ever. They work their way down a long list of absolutely essential, can’t survive without them furnishings and techie-toys in a wide price range. And if they’re lucky, they survive the experience with part of their sanity still intact.

Saturday, I stopped into three different Targets, two Bed Bath and Beyonds, an organization store at the mall and Best Buy. I was looking for things to use in reorganizing and redecorating my apartment — not a major overhaul, simply some updating of towels, rugs, candles, etc.

As soon as I hit the housewares section of the first Target, the fun began. Race-walking down the bedding aisle, led by their daughter, came a couple, each with a half-full shopping cart. The girl had her tablet out, and was comparing — well, at first I thought she was comparing prices, but when I passed her I glanced over and saw she was actually looking at a picture of a pile of pillows and a throw (I think). Coordinating, I presumed, with her future roommate. Before I got out of the aisle, she’d dumped two sets of sheets into her Dad’s cart, on top of a duvet, at least four pillows and a mattress topper. I shook my head, remembering the narrow beds at Penn State that barely, just barely, allowed for one pillow and a narrow quilt.

That family and I met up again at checkout — they were ahead of me in line. The total for the bedding, lamps, plates, towels, rugs, wallart, oven and assorted knick-knacks? Seven hundred plus dollars!

As they walked out, the daughter told them they had to go to Best Buy next — for her TV and a new Roku.

At least that family wasn’t arguing, and seemed rather well-organized, compared to others I saw throughout the weekend. The next Target had the family arguing in the towel aisle — the daughter wanted Fieldcrest towels, the parents were getting her the Target brand and she was red-faced and whining over how they were going to embarass her in front of her new roommate. Her father was getting a bit red-faced himself while obviously biting his tongue. Her mother wasn’t holding back, telling her daughter if she wanted the other towels she could pay for them herself in a very shrill voice with extremely-colorful language. Clearly, they had overdosed on the back-to-school shopping safari.

The story was repeated everywhere I went that weekend. Parents and children, with and without lists, all armed with Smartphones and tablets, color-coordinating with roommates’ decor while hopping from store to store to compare product offerings and prices.

And every family was buying multiple cartloads of things to furnish the dorm room.

Really? That much stuff? I would love to see the size of these dorm rooms. My room at Penn State was something like 8 by 12 feet (if that), into which was already squeezed two large stationary desks, two closet units, two wall-mounted side cabinets and two narrow twin beds. There was barely room to walk down the aisle between the two halves of the room, much less fit all the things students today ‘need’ to survive their college experience.

I didn’t buy that much to take with me when I went to Penn State, largely because I knew I wasn’t going to start out in a dorm room. There were so many freshmen my first year at college that some of us ended up housed in study lounges. Since I was going to have to move in a few weeks, I bought the minimum amount of things I would immediately need. Quilt, pillow, clothes and school supplies, a few personal books.

A month later, I was assigned a room across the quad in Pennypacker Hall, and I was able to move everything in just one trip. At that point, my new roommate and I looked at each others’ stuff. My blue primary-colored quilt coordinated with her yellow primary-color quilt and the multi-colored rug she already had. We had a color scheme.

I headed out to the stores and bought more throw pillows to mix and match with hers. She had a coffee maker and a hot plate; I picked up a toaster and mini-crock pot. I added a set of plates and a couple of glasses for me, some plants in pretty pots and most importantly, more posters of sunny beaches (come January at Penn State you need reminding that there are warm places in the world). On the weekend, my parents gave us a sound system to go with her mini-TV, and we were set. My total bill for that dorm room was probably half what that first family spent just in Target, and I managed it in just two stores (one for the posters and one for everything else).

What really struck me, though, was the different treatment some of these students gave their furnishings and their school supplies. At the last Target, while I was looking over micrwaves (mine having died), there was a guy comparing different models of coffee makers. He was rather obsessively looking up product reviews on his smartphone when his mother came over and asked him what type of pens she should get. His answer? Anykind, ’cause he didn’t think he’d be taking that many notes.

My hope is that he meant he would be taking notes on his tablet, not writing them down, but I’m rather afraid that he, like other students I saw this weekend, was more concerned with his surroundings than his classes.

Meanwhile, I really think someone needs to turn this whole experience into a reality TV show. Assign each set of parents a budget, give them an excessively-long list of required items and then send them off with their excited offspring. Add in a time limit for shopping, create some sold-out product roadblocks and sit back and score the hilarity.

Erotically Delicious

It’s erotic! And delicious! It’s Fifty Shades of — Chicken!?!

If you haven’t already bought it, I strongly recommend you get Fifty Shades of Chicken, by F.L. Fowler (even the author’s pseudonym is a parody). It came out just before Christmas last year, but somehow, I missed seeing it in the stores. And that’s a shame, because I have never laughed so much while reading a cookbook in my life.

Mr. (?) Fowler’s work is both a cookbook (with fifty recipes for chicken dishes) and an homage/parody of, obviously, Fifty Shades of Grey. In this tribute, we are treated to the story of Shifty Blades, a successful and restless chef, and Miss Chicken, a naive, organically-raised fowl who literally falls out of the refrigerator and lands at Shifty’s feet, tempting him with her firm, ripe flesh. After some confusion on the part of Miss Chicken, and Shifty’s avowal that Miss Chicken is too good for him, Shifty and his hen end up engaging in an elaborate dance of food porn.

Fowler perfectly mirrors the Grey books with a breathless, tongue-in-cheek tone to the narrative, slyly poking fun at our obsession with the sexual exploration themes of the Grey trilogy. Shifty ties, stuffs, massages and so on his Miss Chicken, all while conducting a running commentary on his actions. Miss Chicken, in turn, engages in internal monologues about Shifty’s intentions toward her and her reactions to his ‘handling.’ Just like the characters in the Grey series — only one’s a chicken and the other an inventive chef.

The book is structured so that each recipe is introduced by a short passage describing the, ahem, ‘interaction’ between chef and bird. Some of these passages are brief, others a full page long, but all are ridiculously funny. Picture a roasting chicken screaming her ‘safe word’ because she’s overheating.

It would have been so easy for this book to have slipped into over-the-top absurdity; instead, it’s carefully balanced — hilarious without being too ridiculous.

And it’s not just the story that’s good, the recipes appear to be quite tempting as well. (Literally tempting — Fowler carries the double entendres into the cooking intructions.) I’ve tried out two so far — a horseradish-marinaded roast and chicken chili. They were both quite tasty (there was no left-over chili, which considering I made a double batch to feed only four people is pretty astounding). Since I’m eating healthier, I can see I’ll be trying out most of these recipes over the coming months.

Throughout their ‘relationship,’ developed over the course of fifty recipes, Shifty and Miss Chicken must deal with some speed bumps in the form of a snooping, blackmailing cookbook publisher and Shifty’s unhealthy obsession with that hussy, Julia Childs. In the end, though, bird and cook are united in deliciousness and cookbook fame. And because of both the interesting recipes and the screamingly-funny story, this cookbook earned rare praise from me — it’s become only the eighth cookbook that I actually own. I can foresee a long, and hopefully satisfying, partnership with it.

Lost Tribe of the Sith: Paragon and Skyborn

Sith power games are so very intriguing.. And in Lost Tribe of the Sith, we get a lot of them.

The Lost Tribe, you’ll recall, is stranded on Kesh following the crash of their ship, Omen, onto the planet. The first two stories in the series set up the Sith’s arrival on Kesh. The rest of the series draws you into the expected, but nevertheless frightening, power struggles between different species, families and individuals in the Tribe, from shortly after their arrival on the planet until 3500 years before the Battle of Yavin.

Also Expected:

Spoiler Warnings.

Here Be Too Many Details!

Books 3 and 4, Paragon and Savior, were definitely worth reading.

Paragon

Paragon takes place 15 years after Omen’s landing, and is told from the point of view of Seelah. She is the very, very angry human Sith woman who was married to Devore Korsin. And Devore, of course, was killed by his half-brother, Captain Yaru, when the Captain discovered Devore had set up his betrayal to the Sith Lord Naga Sadow. The first, but not the last, betrayal and death match involving Kesh’s new residents.

Now, Seelah is married to Yaru and has borne him a daughter; despite his near-daily meetings with Adari Vaal, the Kesh woman who ‘saved’ the Sith after the crash, Seelah and Yaru have settled into a partnership of sorts to run this mini Sith empire. The Sith have been accepted as the ‘gods’ of the Kesh returned to their people, and Keshiri society has been restructured to worship and serve the whims of the Sith. In turn, the Sith have done everything they can to solidify their position as the dominant rulers of the planet, even to the point of taking over the riding of the uvaks, thereby grounding, literally, the former leaders of Keshiri society.

As foreshadowed at the end of the second story, the Sith have discovered that Kesh has no metal whatsoever, but only after squandering much of their surviving equipment in useless mining and exploration. To add to their problems, the planet emits some type of interference that knocks out communications and affects machinery. It seems that their only chance of escape from Kesh will be to attract the attention of some passing ship – a forlorn hope, at best.

Meanwhile, the Sith, we learn, are firmly split between the contingent of human Sith settling into permanent exile on Kesh – and the alien, Red Sith who are determined that they must return to the Empire. (While there is a distinction between Red and human Sith, it’s not a complete one. The two groups, it appears, have long been interbreeding, and that is how the Sith powers ‘entered’ into humanity.)

Seelah, a medic, has been placed in charge of the, well, let’s call it a breeding program. Kesh’s animosity toward the alien Sith is continuing — humans bear healthy children, while not a single alien baby has survived beyond a day. Seelah and her staff are pulling apart the geneology of the Sith, ostensibly to solve this problem, but in reality, to breed ‘purer’ humans, although only the staff appears to be in on that secret.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the alien Sith – it does. When Ravilan, their informal ‘leader’, goes on a tour of distant communities, the first one he visits – dies. Completely. Every resident, 18,000 of them, succumbs to some sort of disease. And then another village dies. And another.

In the end, it’s not a disease, it was a plot by Ravilan and his people to poison the communities, turn the Kesh against the Sith and force them to give up their ‘luxuries’ and find a way off the planet. (In my opinion he’s not a very bright Sith. You’ve exhausted the power supplies for your equipment, there’s no way to get a signal out and there’s no metal to rebuild Omen. Just how, exactly, did he think turning the Sith’s only refuge against them was going to get the Tribe off the planet?!?)

But Ravilan makes a mistake, and Seelah takes advantage of it – and manages to arrange for the deaths of all the alien Sith. As she tells Ravilan, what’s happening with the Tribe is merely a preview of what will happen to the Sith overall. The Red Sith are failing; the human Sith will replace them.

The story was a good way to learn about the inner workings of the Sith power structures overall, and also about Seelah, who had been neglected in the first two stories beyond her cameo appearances as lead medic and ‘mother’of a child. She was originally the slave, along with her family, of Sadow’s rival, Kressh; she suffered under him and he ultimately killed the rest of her family; and, good Sith that she is, she used Devore to escape from his service.

And at the very end of the book, we learn that there is more than one plot, one betrayal, at work here.

Some of the Keshiri know the truth about the Sith – they are not gods, not the Skyborn returned, and they are destroying the Keshiri. They’ve planted spies in the heart of the Sith to work toward their ultimate destruction.

And they are led by none other than Yaru’s friend, Adari Vaal.

Savior

Savior picks up from this ending, and completes the four-story cycle of the arrival of the Sith on Kesh. Taking place ten years after Paragon, the story opens with the remaining Sith now somewhat accepting of the fact that they will be on Kesh for a long time, if not forever. They have moved from the mountain and Omen’s crash site down into the main town. While they still believe the transmitter is working (Yaru having allowed that lie to stand) and that someday, someone will hear it and come to rescue them, the Sith are now dedicated to the task of reshaping Kesh into a proper Sith world.

One where the Sith rule, and the aliens – the Keshiri – are slaves, even if they don’t know it. Which is ironic, considering that, in the actual Sith Empire, the human Sith were the slaves, and the aliens – the Red Sith – the rulers.

What no one seems to have picked up on is that not all Keshiri are happy to worship and serve the Sith. Adari Vaal, the Daughter of the Skyborn, the very person responsible for the Sith being rescued from Omen’s crash site and complicit in the takeover of her society, is mounting a clandestine rebellion. Yaru still seems to be fond, and even a bit admiring of her – at one point, he says she has the will of a Sith. He’s spot on in that statement. And perhaps that has blinded him to her bitter hatred, sparked by the death of her son and Yaru’s failure to save him, driven by the realization that her entire society is being destroyed by the Sith.

We also meet the two children of Seelah – her son, Jariad, by her first husband Devore, and her daughter, Nida, by Yaru. Jariad, the leader of the Sabers, the Sith’s honor guard, is the successful son and logical choice to succeed Yaru Korsin, while Nida is merely the leader of the Skyborn Rangers, the uvak riders.

So much of this story deals with surface impressions, and how they hide the true nature, the underlying motives, beneath seemingly innocent (if one can use that word with Sith) words and actions.

On the surface:

Seelah supports Yaru and his endeavors to build a Sith society on Kesh – and to a certain extent, she does. Only she intends that her son Jariad will lead it, while Yaru dies as revenge for his killing of Devore.

Adari Vaal basks in her position as Daughter of the Skyborn, while preparing a death blow to the Sith’s ability to control the Keshiri — stealing the uvaks back and forcing a confrontation between Sith and Keshiri.

Jariad is a ‘golden boy’ of the Sith, the expected future leader, while Nida his sister is nothing more than a plodding, simple girl who likes to ride uvaks.

And Yaru is complacently designing the future lives of the Sith on Kesh, blind to the plots against him.

Without spoiling two much, I can tell you that Yaru does manage to outmaneuver Seelah, not without losing his life. Adari succeeds in her plot, but it does not have the outcome she expected and she is betrayed by her own son, a servant to Nida Korsin. And Nida herself proves to be the biggest surprise of all, her hidden skills and cooperation in her father’s counterplots making her more than a match for her brother. Ultimately, she assumes leadership of the Sith.

Overall, a satisfying end to the arrival stories of the Sith. The final two chapters, and in particular the ending page, of Savior capture the vicious nature of the Sith quite well. Although I’m wondering, just who is the ‘savior’ of the title? Yaru Korsin, who created a structure by which the Sith could channel their aggressive nature while establishing a society on Kesh? Adari Vaal, who, in the end, escapes with her followers and uvaks to a distant continent where she prepares for a war with the Sith? Or Nida Korsin, who, by outwitting her brother and mother, manages to preserve the society Yaru established and, perhaps, save both Sith and Keshiri from a bloody, violent conflict?

I’ll find out in the next stories.

Sentences of Doom

Two sentences I hope never to hear again.

Your stylist has left the salon” and “Your stylist no longer works evenings or weekends.”

I called today to get an appointment for my monthly color and cut. My company’s Annual Meeting is in ten days, and I’ll be attending for the first time as Corporate Counsel. I have a primary, and a backup, salon, and at each, a trusted stylist who always cuts my hair perfectly. With two people on call, I usually never have to worry about getting an appointment, even on short notice. One of them has always been available.

Not this time. After being on hold an unusually long time at the first salon, the receiptionist finally came back to my line and explained that, unfortunately, my stylist has left the salon. Say what? I just saw her four weeks ago and she didn’t say anything about leaving! The receptionist was very understanding, but the best she could offer me was an appointment with Person A or Person B, three weeks from tomorrow.

Well, that won’t work. I need my hair cut and colored now, before the meeting, not after it. Besides, I’ve seen Person A’s styles and I don’t think pseudo-punk rocker works for a corporate attorney (also, I tried a similar style in my college days and know for a fact it’s not a flattering cut for my face). And Person B, while probably very nice, has only been cutting hair for a year. So I thanked the receptionist and called salon number two.

Only to be told my stylist at that salon now just works weekdays and one weeknight. They were sure they could squeeze me into the revised schedules, if I was willing to come in mid-afternoon.

No. Not going to happen. First off, I can’t just take an afternoon off every month to get my hair done. Second, I work more than an hour from the salon, and taking an afternoon appointment means I’ll be leaving Manyunk during the peak of rush hour. Which, in Philadelphia traffic terms, translates into sitting on the Surekill (otherwise known as the Schulkyll) Expressway and then Route 422 for at least two hours, all to travel a measly 20 miles to my home.

After spending a few minutes hyperventilating and contemplating losing my sanity, I realized, reluctantly, that I will have to find a new salon, and I will have to do it tomorrow so I can get an appointment before the meeting.

Finding a stylist you can trust, one who won’t butcher your hair, isn’t as easy as it sounds. There’s a world of difference between a decent stylist and one who can make your hair look fantastic. The same person can do an awesome job on me, and a hack job on his or her next client. It all depends upon that stylist’s ability to understand your hair, recognize your personality, and work with those factors to create something magical. If the cut goes bad, you may have to wait weeks, if not months, to grow it out and try again. A bad color will not only look horrible, but it can dry out your hair, making it brittle and unable to hold the cut.

In other words, your stylist is, without a doubt, one of the most important people in your life. And I just lost mine.

Being my stylist means working with baby fine hair that absolutely hates to do anything other than lie flat on my head, and the most stubborn, color-resistant grey hairs my (now-previous) stylists had ever seen. Yes, I have, sadly, grey hairs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about it — my mother was almost entirely grey before her 21st birthday; I at least waited to go to law school before I spied the first silver hairs on my head. But it means that the stylist has to really amp up the color mix, and that the cut has to take into account my hair’s tendency to fall over at the slightest hint of humidity, rain, snow, wind or a bird passing overhead.

I’ve just spent three hours touring websites and reading reviews. As expected, for every salon, and stylist, there were raves, and flames. I’ve managed to narrow it down to three salons, and five stylists, in the Main Line area, but if anyone wants to make a suggestion, feel free to drop a comment.

I’d have liked to try a salon in Philadelphia — Vanity looked good — but I balk at spending an extra thirty-forty dollars to park my car just to spend two hours getting my hair done. I do still have some sanity left.

Lost Tribe of the Sith: Precipice and Skyborn

Well, that was more like the Star Wars I’m used to. I’m speaking, of course, of the tales of the Lost Tribe of the Sith.

John Jackson Miller wrote nine stories of the Lost Tribe of the Sith – eight short (30-40 page) e-books and a final, much-longer story. The first eight were briefly posted online, free of charge, while the longer Pandemonium was only just published in the Collected Stories anthology. They span roughly two thousand years (5,000-2,975 years before the Battle of Yavin) and are meant to introduce readers to the Lost Tribe we meet in the Fate of the Jedi series.

After reading all nine stories, I have to say I really enjoyed them, although I wished they had been longer; some scenes and relationships could have been expanded a bit to provide more depth to the characters. Despite that, I thought the stories definitely provided a believable backstory for the Lost Tribe met by Luke Skywalker in the Fate novels, and explained a few ‘quirks’ of their society that had puzzled me when I read the Fate stories.

Usual warning

Draigons of spoilers ahead

Read at your own peril

The first two stories – Precipice and Skyborn – relate how the Sith came to be on the planet Kesh. They take place at the same time, but view events from two, vastly different perspectives – that of Yaru Korsin, the captain of the Sith ship Omen, and Adari Vaal, a Keshiri widow.

Precipice

Right from the start, Precipice dumps you into the Sith power games.

Omen is a mining ship, crewed by a mix of human and alien species, almost all of them ‘Sith,’ along with a complement of the deadly Massassi troops. She is the property of the Sith Lord Naga Sadow, a true Red Sith. It’s interesting that Sadow, and his fellow Sith Lords, are of an alien species, while the human Sith like Yaru Korsin are merely servants/slaves of their overlords. Very interesting, given that Palpatine/Darth Sidious had a distinct bias against non-humans, to realize that the Sith actually started as a non-human species.

As the story opens, Omen is returning to Sadow with a full cargo of crystals. However, the ship makes an uncontrolled jump through hyperspace, hits a gravity well, and emerges above an unknown world which promptly begins pulling the ship to the surface.

As Yaru Korsin, Omen’s human captain, puts it, a Sith glories in the ’exaltation of the self,’ each Sith ready to strike at any time and advance their own personal interests. That doesn’t help very much, though, when your ship is disintegrating around you – during the crash, Yaru’s half-brother Devore is busy accusing the navigator of making a mistake in his piloting rather than finding some way to save the ship. The rest of the bridge crew, with the exception of a non-Sith Houk named Gloyd, aren’t much more help to Korsin.

That type of attitude is even less useful when you’ve crashed, with minimal supplies, on an unknown, hostile world. And Kesh is very definitely hostile, at least to intruders. The survivors of the crash, roughly 350 Sith and 80 Massassi, manage to stumble out of Omen’s burning, wrecked hulk, only to have some of them fall off the mountain on the way down from the crash site. Then the Massassi get sick – something in Kesh’s atmostphere just plain hates them. They’re dead in just a few days. The animals on the planet appear to be inedible and downright poisonous to the survivors. And true to form, Devore and the other Sith kill the navigator and are now ready to start killing each other.

So Yaru makes a desperate hike back up the mountain to activate the transmitter and wait for rescue, only to find that the transmitter is fried and useless. The same can be said of his brother, who’s waiting, drugged up, to challenge his command. Instead, Yaru kills him, then heads back down the mountain and lies to the remaining crew that he activated the transmitter.

Korsin struck me as a bit of an unusual Sith, more interested in doing a good job as captain than playing the power games of his fellow Sith. Oh, he’s not above protecting himself and advancing his position in the hierarchy – witness the fact that he kills his brother when he realizes the idiot lied about him to Sadow – but he’s focused more on holding the remaining Sith together and finding some way to get off the planet and back into Sadow’s good graces than in joining the genocidal blame games the others have started.

Devore’s widow, Seelah, though, is more traditional – having guessed that Korsin had something to do with Devore’s death, she fires up her anger and hatred, then smiles invitingly at Korsin, prepared to wait for her revenge.

Just like a Sith.

Skyborn

The second story, Skyborn, looks at the Sith’s arrival from the viewpoint of Adari Vaal, the widow of an uvak rider. Her husband allegedly died gloriously – only she knows that Nink, his uvak, became tired of being abused and dumped his rider off in the ocean. Adari has been left with a good (by Keshtiri standards) house, her nagging mother, two dim-witted children, and sincere gratitude that her people have done away with the ancient tradition of killing the family of a dead uvak-rider.

Her position as a widow should now assure her of relative comfort and peace – but we start the story with Adari on trial as a heretic. Her crime? Challenging the accepted dogma surrounding the creation of the Keshtiri continents.

The Neshtovar, or uvak-riders, who run Keshtiri society, are trying Adari her for heresy because she’s pointed out that volcanos elsewhere on the continent are creating new land. Since the same kind of stones can be found around her village, that land too must have been created by volcanos. However, their mythology holds that the Skyborn, the creators from above, made everything, including the continent of Keshtah, and nothing new can be created — ever.

Fundamentalism, it seems, is a universal concept.

During the trial, a distant mountain appears to erupt, despite the fact that Adari knows it to be granite and therefore incapable of an eruption. The Keshtiri interpret this as an omen of a different kind – that Adari is endangering them. They gather into a mob and start lighting torches to burn her house – and her.

Adari wisely escapes out the back door – and up into the sky, aboard a rather startled Nink. She decides to investigate the site of the flaming mountain – Omen’s crash site – and spots the crushed ship, which she at first thinks is a shell hatching, well, something unidentifiable. In reality, she’s watching Yaru and Devore fight, witnessing brother killing brother. Ultimately, she ends up stumbling into the Sith camp, where she is ‘captured’ and then slowly ‘persuaded’ to aid the Sith to escape from the mountain by going for help on Nink. And she does, even though she was initially treated hostiley by the Sith, and even though she can tell that at least some of them, including Seelah, dislike her. Intensely.

My favorite part of the story was when Korsin asks her ‘how many are her people’. She replies that they’re numberless. He assumes she means they’ve never been counted, and she corrects him – it’s not that no one’s tried to count them, but their language doesn’t have a number large enough to tally the population.

Korsin, who may have intended only to seek help from the natives, is momentariy stunned, and then switches gears, asking her for the legends of the Skyborn. Clearly, he’s intending to masquerade his people as the Kesh’s gods.

The story ends with a grateful Adari, whose life has been saved and social status elevated by the return to Kesh of the ‘Skyborn’, wondering about the future of her world. She knows the Sith are not the Skyborn, but since they are clearly more advanced than her people, she’s eager to learn from them. And she knows one more thing – although the Sith don’t believe her.

The metals the Sith need to repair Omen and leave Kesh don’t exist on her world.

The Sith – are stuck.

Overall
Put together, these two stories serve as a good introduction to the Sith of planet Kesh. I would have liked to have more backstory on Devore and Seelah – their hatred and animosity against Yaru didn’t feel fully fleshed out at this point. We’re asked to accept that they have reason to hate Yaru, although, particularly in Seelah’s case, there doesn’t seem to be a basis for it beyond the fact that her man, Devore, hates his brother. Seelah seems a very independent person, much smarter than Devore. I can’t see her just blindly hating whoever Devore hates unless it furthers her interests somehow.

Also, I really would have liked an explanation of why Adari’s husband was called the uvak rider ‘upon whom all hope had rested.’ Which hopes, and why?

But overall, the stories were very good, and nicely set up the next two in the series.

Unfollowing

I ‘unfollowed’ a blog today on another site.

I fully support the right of free speech. I started life as a journalism major. I am a lawyer who has spoken out against steps taken to infringe our civil liberties in the United States — something that has cost me a dear friend.

But it has been long-established that there are certain things you do not have the right to say; such as words that incite panic or violence in others. The classic is shouting ‘fire’ in a theater, an act that causes people to panic, stampede and be injured.

No matter how you feel about the results in a trial, there is no excuse, none, for posting that you want someone to kill the defendant when they walk out of the courtroom. Or for reposting that statement on another blog. That makes you no better than the person against whom you are speaking.

And that’s why I’m no longer following that blog. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but there is a difference between disagreeing with a verdict and advocating another crime to correct the original crime.

Or, as my mother used to say, two wrongs do not make a right.

Forsooth! A Death Star.

I love Shakespeare. I love Star Wars. Pair the two and you get to witness my happy dance.

An hour ago, I finished reading William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher. My local comics shop recommended it to me, and it is well-worth your time!

I know, I know, it seems a bit ridiculous that the two would work together. But they do. Shakespeare’s plays include heroic action, the growth of heroes, twisted family dynamics, hidden motivations, greatly complicated villains, and, oh yeah — comic relief. All elements that are present in Star Wars. As the author points out, George Lucas studied mythology, including Joseph Campbell’s seminal work ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, when writing Star Wars; and in turn, Campbell had studied Shakespeare’s plays when formulating his theories.

So yes, Star Wars as a Shakespearean drama definitely works.

Doescher catches the wonderful cadence of Shakespeare’s plays, both the wording (in, of course, iambic pentameter) and the way in which such plays flow dramatically. I salute him — iambic pentameter is not easy to write, as I recall from my attempts during a high-school English class, and to carry it through for an entire book while remaining faithful to the source material is quite the feat. While you’ll recognize the paraphrasing of a number of Shakespeare’s well-known phrases (‘Now is the summer of our happiness’ ring a bell?), much of the dialogue deals with the expected terminology of my beloved Star Wars Universe — Death Stars, lighsabers and droids, plus the original languages of Jawas, Jabba and assorted aliens. Translating all these things to iambic pentameter cannot have been easy.

I am going to nit-pick one thing. I’m still trying to decide if the phrase ‘set to stun’ properly can be admitted to the Star Wars Universe. A friend who’s a devoted Trekkie objects to its inclusion — actually, the words used were ‘you stole it from us!’ Aside from that one point, though, I honestly just loved the entire book.

Doescher follows the script of the Original Movie “A New Hope” and sets out on the right foot by adhering to a typical device in plays. The action is advanced and explained by the words of the Chorus:

“It is a period of civil war.
The spaceships of the rebels, striking swift
From base unseen, have gain’d a vict’ry o’er
The cruel Galactic Empire now adrift.”

Can’t you just see this onstage? A mixed crowd of Stormtroopers, Rebels, Jawas, standing in the back of a dimly-lit and smoky stage, chanting the lines in unison. The author even catches the stage directions of Shakespeare, also as shown in the first Scene. “Enter REBELS. Many die. Enter STORMTROOPERS and DARTH VADER.” These directions, like those of Shakespeare, convey the events occurring onstage in just a few concise words.

The play — for that is, after all, what this is — features all the characters from the Movie. Luke, Leia and Han, R2-D2 and C-3P0, Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, enter and exit from the stage, uttering the (Elizabethanized) lines we all know from the Movie as well as expanded commentary representing the thoughts and emotions of the characters at key points in the play. Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, in particular, will break your heart with certain statements, the lines poignant and neatly tying back to events in the Prequel Trilogy.

But even more than these insights into the hearts and minds of the key players, setting Star Wars as a play offers the opportunity for the bit and background players to have expanded roles — rebels, troopers and all, they get the opportunity to offer their commentary, their insight, their complaints. (There’s one scene, on the Death Star, that brings instantly to my mind the squabbling of the watchmen in Much Ado About Nothing.)

The best lines of all, in my opinion, are reserved for R2-D2. Now, I love droids, perhaps unreasonably so, and R2 is tied with Dummy from Marvel Cineverse for my favorite. In the movie, C-3P0 and R2-D2 start off the action and true to the script, in the play C-3P0 enters seeking R2, whose first lines are:

“Beep beep,
Beep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!”

To which C-3P0 responds “We’re doomed.”

Picturing this in my head, I started laughing as I heard the distinctive tones George Lucas used for R2’s ‘voice’, and the lovely, modulated, but fussy, responses of C-3P0. And then, I didn’t stop laughing. Why? Because R2-D2 gets real lines!

“This golden droid has been a friend, ’tis true,
And yet I wish to stil his prating tongue!”

My inner fangirl is still squealing. We get to hear R2-D2’s viewpoint on the action, and his counterpart and companion C-3P0, rather than a mere ‘translation’ offered through the voices of other characters.

I won’t mention much more because while the play stays true to the Movie, there are new and unexpectedly enhanced scenes, the iambic pentameter twisting of the dialogue is beautiful, and you really must read this book. Need further incentive? There are lovely ‘woodcuts’ of movie scenes interspersed throughout (Jabba the Hutt. In an Elizabethan doublet and cap!) Although really, would it have killed them to give us one clear close-up of Obi-Wan? We get the back of his head, we get a distant view of his death — come on, what about that iconic scene where he lowers his hood and first meets Luke?

A quick bit of advice. Read the entire book through once. Then, read it again — aloud. Doing so helps you catch the rhythm of the scenes and, if you have a good imagination? Close your eyes and picture our actors walking upon the stage of Shakespeare’s venerable Globe Theater.

Although if you’re reading it aloud, I’d suggest checking whether anyone is around you. An audience of fellow geeks and sci-fi fans is appropriate. A gathering of those unfamiliar with either the Bard or Star Wars might get you, ah, questioned as to your mental health. Particularly if you’re combining words like ‘forsooth’ and ‘Death Star’ in the same phrase.

Upon second thought, that might not happen — the questioning of your sanity, that is. Between the popularity of Shakespeare and Star Wars, I don’t think there are many people around who haven’t heard of one or the other.

Now, go forth and expand upon thy geekly knowledge.

Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm comics

I definitely should have read the Dawn of the Jedi comics before venturing into the first novel set in this time period. I would have enjoyed Into the Void more.

At the library on Wednesday, I picked up the first tradepaperback in the Dawn of the Jedi comics series — Force Storm. It gathers issues 1-5 of the Dawn of the Jedi series, and provides a much better explanation for this time period than Into the Void did. Not to mention it introduces characters that I like much, much better than Void’s heroine, Lanoree.

Usual warning.

Draigon-loads of spoilers ahead.

Proceed at your own risk.

The series starts off with a concise but thorough explanation of how the Je’Daii came to live on Tython. The Dai Bendu monks have been safeguarding a Tho Yor, a mysterious object which is in reality a (maybe sentient) space ship. One day it calls to them, and they board it, leaving their world. Across the galaxy, seven other Tho Yor do the same thing, gathering Force sensitives like Wookies from Kashyyyk, Witches of Dathomir and Twi-lek from Ryloth. As the ships travel to the Deep Core, and Tython, they pick up Force sensitives of other races. These people unite to form the Je’Daii, residing on Tython, a planet rich in the Force and orbited by two moons, Ashla (Light) and Bogan (Dark).

Over time, non-sensitive children born to the Je’Daii are sent to live on other planets in the system, as Tython, with weather that reacts to changes in the Force, has proven to be too dangerous a place for them to live. At the time this story takes place, these outcasts have settled all the worlds in the system, and there has been at least one system-wide war. Also, no one, outcast or Je’Daii has managed to find their way back out of the system. The very last planet, ‘Furies Gate’, has an orbiting station (also named Fury) to watch for the return of exploratory ships which are sent out periodically to find the route out of the system. To date, none of them have returned — but something else nevertheless finds its way into the Tythos System.

The comics then start to weave together two storylines, with references to a third — the Infinite Empire, the experiences of a select group of Je’Daii, and fleeting mentions of someone called Daegen Lok.

The story opens on Tatooine, yes, the Tatooine of the Skywalkers — only this planet is lush and covered with water. It’s also under attack by the Rakata of the Infinite Empire, who appear to have a massive desire to conquer the entire galaxy. The ‘Predors’ — warlords — of the Rakata keep ‘Force Hounds’ who, among other things, seek out Force-sensitive worlds and people. One of these hounds, Trill, has sensed a powerful Force-world in the Core, but can’t locate it. Xesh, another Hound, says that he can, and off he and his Predor go into the Core.

No surprise, the world is Tython, and naturally, Xesh’s ship crashes on it, killing everyone but him. In entering the system, it passed by Fury Station, and Hawk Ryo sets out to track it, sensing the Dark nature of its occupants. Hawk was a character introduced in a short story set before Into the Void, and it looks like I nay have been right — the comics seem to be setting him up to play a larger role in these events.

We’re next introduced to three Je’Daii Journeyers, or apprentices — Shae Koda, Tasha Ryo and Sek’los Rath. They each saw a vision of a masked person (Xesh) and set out to find him. Daegen Lok, an exile on Bogan, has the same vision — only he senses the darkness, and the power, within the person. The Je’Daii arrive just in time to witness the crash of Xesh’ ship and find his escape pod — and of course, to get into a pitched fight with Xesh, who then flees into the Abyss of Ruh, a place of Darkness on the planet.

Xesh, incidentally, brings the first ‘Forcesaber’ — a blade of light — to Tython. Unfortunately, this lightsaber can only be ignited through the Darkside.

Ultimately, Xesh is subdued by the Je’Daii, but only after he acts against all his instincts and training to aid Shae in her fight against an attacking creature from the Abyss. He admits that he could not allow her light to be extinguished, and that he does not understand their version of the Force at all. Since he is so completely out of balance in the Force, knowing only the Darkside, he’s banished to Bogan, there to study upon the Light and hopefully achieve balance. The fifth issue ends with the ominous statement by Daegen Lok that “Finally, it has begun.”

I enjoyed the comics much more than the novel, in part because the comics were more understandable. That opening explanation provided a basis from which to dive into this world, since so many of its terms, and Je’Daii behaviors, are different from those of the Star Wars Universe of later years. Moreover, the very fact that this story was in a comics-mode really helped, by giving a visual to the unfamiliar terms. Forcesabers and other new terms are easier to understand when you see what they look like.

Although, a rancor is still — unpleasant — whether it’s a full rancor or a half-breed. I’m just saying.

The one thing I wished they had done here was to provide more of a background for Daegen Lok. I know that people are exiled to Bogan because they are too far into the Darkside, but who Bogan is, and what he may have done while under the influence of the Darkside, are not explained here, although you’re definitely left with the impression that he’s going to play a large role in the story.

Overall, these five issues were a nice start to this part of the Star Wars Universe, although they do raise some interesting points about the changes that have occured ove time, particularly among the Jedi. One of the fascinating aspects of the comics was reading the creed of the Je’Daii:

There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no fear, there is power.
I am the heart of the Force. I am the revealing fire of Light.
I am the mystery of darkness in balance with chaos and harmony,
Immortal in the Force.

Contrast that with the modern Jedi creed, which holds that the Darkside is not to be touched by Jedi, and that merely touching it will taint that Jedi’s actions forever. These Je’Daii, at least on the surface that we have seen thus far, appear to be more in balance, able to see and use both sides of the Force without (hopefully) falling prey to one side or the other. Indeed, just as those too immersed in the Dark are banished to Bogan, those who fall too far into the Light are banished to Ashla until they can regain their balance. An extreme move to one side of the Force or the other is not desirable in the eyes of the Je’Daii; balance is everything.

I’m still mulling over the implications here for the Jedi of later years.

I haven’t read anything past issue 5, as the library had nothing further from this series. But I can see that I’ll definitely be visiting the comics shop for additional issues, so I can follow up on the storylines introduced here.

And figure out if these Je’Daii are more knowledgable about the Force than Yoda and his Council.

Happy Independence Day – and Thank You to our Military!

A Happy Independence Day to everyone — and a huge ‘thank you’ to our military for their service.

The United States is celebrating its birthday today. Despite our differences in opinions and beliefs, and there are many, we should all join together to do one thing — thank the members of our armed forces for their service.

Without the sacrifices of our soldiers and sailors, pilots and marines, our country could have fallen any time in the last 237 years. The United States might never have made it past the Declaration of Independence, or could have reverted back to the dominion of the British Empire during the War of 1812. We might have split into two nations as a result of the Civil War, or fallen to a horrible enemy during World War 2. Men, and now women, of our country have stood between us, and harm, in so many, many other conflicts.

We ask so much of these men and women who voluntarily serve in the military — not just that they defend us, but sometimes that they also defend other nations, other people, even the whole world. We have made mistakes over the years and centuries. Sometimes we backed the wrong side in a conflict, or made errors in strategy or planning our involvement in an action. We will undoubtedly make more, because we are only human.

But despite these mistakes, the disagreements in our society, the nasty infighting of our political leaders, even the sheer ingratitude and indifference we often display toward our military, in spite of the ever-increasing dangers of the world and the sometimes nebulous nature of the enemy threatening us, our men and women continue to enlist, selflessly offering up their health and sadly, sometimes their lives and sanity, to defend our country and to try and offer that freedom to others.

And in return, they don’t always get the thanks, or even the reward, they deserve for their time in the military. I keep seeing reports on the struggles of military families simply to survive when a father or mother is stationed in a combat zone, over and over and over again. Then that family member may come home permanently injured or mentally scarred to a country that isn’t prepared, or for that matter doesn’t even seem to want to try, to support the soldier in his or her recovery.

It’s easy, when we’re caught up in our daily routines, in the hurry to get to work and then come home to attend to our family, to forget about those people standing between us and harm. After all, few of us live near military bases, or have family serving in the military. We don’t see these soldiers or their families every day, and so it’s easy to forget them. Out of sight, out of mind.

But we should never forget them. And if there’s one thing on which we all should agree, it’s that we need to not only say thank you, but to ensure that these brave people have adequate support when they come home, that their families have a decent life, and that we never, ever, take their service for granted.

They are there, so that we don’t have to be.

Thank you.

Ready for new TV shows yet?

It’s possible I may be watching more TV shows this season, having just reviewed the published schedule for the upcoming Fall season.

Last year, my TV viewing was pretty limited. I regularly watched White Collar, Criminal Minds, Game of Thrones and NCIS/NCIS LA. And, yes, okay, I also was watching cartoons — Ultimate Spiderman, Avengers, The Clone Wars. A couple of these shows, I both watched on TV and subscribed via iTunes (White Collar, Ultimate Spiderman). I knew I would want a permanent copy of them, and I’d rather have the shows in a digital format, to entertain me when traveling and to cut down on the clutter in my home. Although I really wish the deleted scenes could be an option when you subscribe on iTunes — you know, buy the season and when the DVDs come out, we’ll automatically download the extras to you. Maybe someday.

Otherwise, I watched Netflix when I wanted to be entertained, working my way through TV shows I’d never had a chance to see, or rewatching favorite episodes from shows like The West Wing. However, when I looked at this year’s schedule, not only were there several new shoes to interest me, but there were actual timing conflicts between shows I want to watch, which hasn’t happened for at least five years except for a couple of weeks when NCIS LA runs against White Collar (and White Collar wins that one, every time).

So what will I be watching this upcoming year?

Monday, FOX will be running a show called Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod Crane — and the Headless Horseman — wake up in our time. Headless is apparently another kind of Horseman — as in, a rider for the Apocalypse — and Ichabod must battle him and save Sleepy Hollow. Could be a good show, could be wretchedly horrible, but it’s got an interesting premise at least.

Tuesday I will be planted in front of the TV for Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. There is no way on this or any other planet I would miss that show — Agent Coulson returns from the dead! (You knew Fury was a lying liar who lies, right?). I’ll also be subscribing to it on iTunes, if that’s an option. And in a rare move for me, buying the DVDs once they come out. What can I say, I’m a comics girl and a Marvel comics girl in particular. Also a devoted member of the Coulson fan club.

The show runs at 8 pm on ABC, though, which is going to conflict with CBS’s NCIS. And I’m sorry, Gibbs, Ducky and all — Marvel wins on this one; your show will have to be either recorded or more likely, pulled off On Demand. I’ll switch over to USA for White Collar when it’s on, or CBS for NCIS LA when White Collar’s on break or running at 10 pm.

Wednesday gives me another pair of conflicts. Because I was promoted at work last year, I missed the premieres of Arrow and Revolution. I finally caught up with Arrow mid-season, and I really liked it (what can I say, comics girl whose first love was Hawkeye, alright?). So I’d planned to watch Arrow again this year, and possibly Revolution as well, once I’d worked my way through the first season and decided if I enjoyed it enough to devote time to it.

Wouldn’t you know it, they’ve put the two shows up against one another at 8 pm. Arrow will probably win out.

And then, I’ve got another choice to make. I’ve been watching Criminal Minds on CBS since the second season, when Lost did its many-months-long mid-season break and lost a bunch of viewers, including me. Naturally, at the same time comes The Tomorrow People, a remake of a venerated British show. The Tomorrow People are the next evolution of humanity — men and women who come into their powers of telekinesis, telepathy, teleportation around puberty. Sound familiar, Marvel fans? The name tomorrow people has been used by Marvel to describe the X-Men. So now I have to chose between a show that I love and I show I suspect I will love. Ah, well, at least I won’t be bored, right?

Thursday, there’s The Big Bang Theory and then nothing much.

Friday, and I cannot believe I’m actually saying this, I may seriously have to watch Dracula on NBC. It’s a different take (supposedly), where the infamous vampire is more of a hero, or at least not so much of a bad guy. Dracula was actually the first ‘horror’ book I ever read, and I think I imprinted on it. I’ve caught every movie and TV remake, religiously, no matter how badly written, terribly acted and/or outrageous the plot. I can’t stop now.

Saturday, nothing and I’m not usually home anyway, and Sunday, there’s nothing all that much interesting (to me) except for Spiderman. I’ll catch the occasional episode of something on PBS, and Game of Thrones when it returns.

But seriously, if I follow this schedule, I’ll be watching twice as much TV as I did last year, the exact opposite of the reputed national trend toward watching less TV each year.

What can I say, I’m a rebel who’s never followed a trend in her life.