Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Galaxy Far, Far Away, Reduced and Redux

Today is George Lucas's 70th birthday. With all the Star Wars news that's been coming out lately, I've been meaning to put together some of my thoughts; today seemed like an appropriate day to sit down and make that happen.

First came the news that the existing Expanded Universe (read: all the SW-related novels, comics, video games, etc. published up to this point) are being, essentially, discarded. They'll remain in print (and here I'm thinking mainly of the novels) under a new "Legends" banner, but they're not considered part of the "official" story; while certain elements may be appropriated and reused, future contributors to the SW universe are in no way beholden to what came before. The only things that are official are the six feature films, the Clone Wars animated series that recently ended, and the upcoming Rebels animated TV series. Going forward, anything that comes out (beginning with the appropriately titled novel A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller in September) will be part of one official, unified storyline.

Generally speaking, I think this was the right move. I actually wish they had gone one step further and nixed the Clone Wars cartoons. I'm still in the midst of watching the final season, which was never aired on television and distributed instead through Netflix, but I've seen the rest. While there were some cool parts, I think the low points outweigh them. The main thing that drives me crazy is the return of Darth Maul. Yes, he was a cool character that was vastly underutilized, but the fact remains that he got cut in half and then tumbled down a massive shaft. The dude died, and giving him robot legs and pretending he survived is just lame. You gave him a badass brother; that should have been enough.

Actually, I feel similarly about the rest of the Expanded Universe, that part that did get severed from the official Star Wars canon. There were high points (I've written before that, despite my love of the movies as a kid, my continuing level of fandom owes a huge debt to Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy), but the low points were so bad that they absolutely had to go. I mean, come on: the ridiculous escalation of superweapons (the Sun Crusher, the Darksaber, World Devastators, Centerpoint Station...was there another Death Star? There may have been)? A clone of the Emperor (twice, I think)? Luke dating a ghost? The endless, contradictory musings on the nature of the Force? Ugh. Look, all of Zahn's novels were great, as were Aaron Allston's, and I really enjoyed the Han Solo trilogies (both Brian Daley's and A.C. Crispin's) and The Lando Calrissian Adventures (which were so totally unlike anything else in the SW universe); just about everything else was terrible. It would have been too confusing to pick and choose which stories happened and which didn't (and I'm sure there's plenty of disagreement over the quality of various works), so it all had to go. Besides, from a storytelling standpoint, it wouldn't have been easy to keep all of that and then pick up the storyline thirty years after Return of the Jedi in a way that would easily catch up those with no knowledge of the EU stories.

So all that is gone but not forgotten, and I do think it will be interesting to see which existing elements get reused and how. Grand Admiral Thrawn is such a great character--he has to get back into the mix somehow, right? I'd like to think so. I also think it'll be interesting to see when and how the "Legends" stories get overwritten. New stories are going to be told to bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and whatever ends up happening in Episode VII. How will they be different from the tales we've already heard? Only time will tell. I just hope they bring in adequate talent to do the job. I was underwhelmed with the initial batch of authors chosen to expand the universe officially with new novels (John Jackson Miller, James Luceno, Kevin Hearne, and Paul S. Kemp). I liked (didn't love) Miller's previous SW novel, Kenobi; Luceno's work has been decent at best, despite having some pretty cool topics and characters to work with, like Darth Plagueis, Darth Maul, Darth Vader, and the Millennium Falcon); Kemp's novels I honestly can't even remember if I've read or not; Hearne hasn't written for SW before, and I'm not familiar with his other work. To be fair, I don't know who would have been better; I don't read a ton of sci-fi. I do think it would have been awesome to let Zahn kick things off, as he did in the first place, and I'd enjoy seeing more SW from Matthew Stover. One name from sci-fi I am familiar with is John Scalzi--I know he's turned down the opportunity to write SW before, but personally I'd love to see what he could do with it.

And continuing with the "I just hope they bring in adequate talent to do the job" theme, we come to Episode VII itself, currently scheduled for release on December 18, 2015. Let's start with the old news first: I'm not conversant with J.J. Abrams's entire oeuvre, but I like what little I've seen (the two newest Star Trek movies as director, and Super 8 as director and writer). I'm excited to see what he bring to the table, and bringing back veteran writer Lawrence Kasdan from the original trilogy gives me great optimism. I'm also stoked that John Williams will be back to compose the score; given his age, I'm sure a day will come when Star Wars music is composed by someone else, and I do not look forward to that day.

Of course, as we all now know, Kasdan and Williams aren't the only old hands being brought back from the original trilogy. The recent cast announcement confirmed that original stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker will be reprising their roles as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2, respectively. I think that'll be nice. It'll be awesome to see them in their familiar roles once again as they (I'm sure) pass the torch to a younger generation of heroes and villains. I'm still hoping they find a spot for Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian as well. I don't know a ton about the newcomers, except for Max von Sydow, who's always good, and Andy Serkis, who's an interesting addition. Everyone else? No real clue. I've seen Adam Driver in Girls, but that role is so far away from anything he'd do in Star Wars, there's no way to extrapolate. Domhnall Gleeson was fine in a bit part as Bill Weasley. I've heard good things about Oscar Isaac and John Boyega, and I'll try to catch some of their movies (primarily Inside Llewyn Davis and Attack the Block) in the meantime to get up to speed with their work.

The most important thing about the new movies, I think, is for the writers to let them be what they are. The original three movies had a broad appeal, including to kids, because it was a swashbuckling adventure with relatable characters, a lot of action and humor, and, of course, a happy ending. The prequel trilogy fell short in part because it was a very different story, but Lucas tried to tell it in the same way. The descent of a republic into fascism, and the fall of a hero into a power-hungry mass murderer? Not a story that can be told (well) if you want to aim it at kids. One thing I do think is good is that they're going to make a bunch of new Star Wars movies, and hopefully that will give them the freedom to make different kinds of movies. The prequels should have been dark. If the upcoming trilogy or standalone movies have a dark storyline, they should be able to go with it, with plenty of room to make other movies that are lighter. Variety and depth--that's what I'm hoping for.

Needless to say, George Lucas's work, and plenty of products based upon it, has brought me a great deal of joy over the course of the past 36 (almost 37) years. Despite my disenchantment with the prequels (primarily The Phantom Menace; it was the only one I'd describe as outright terrible, and the following two likely would have been much improved with a better start to the series) isn't enough to make me not excited for the new trilogy and everything else Star Wars still has to offer. I'm very much looking forward to it.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Everybody's Doing It, Doing It, Doing It

Twitter and Facebook have been blowing up this week with people posting pictures of forecasts and temperature displays, as well as pictures and videos of the weather outside and all the cool, unexpected, and bizarre phenomena brought on by the extreme cold. I'm not going to join them in the pics/videos department, but I guess I'm going to write about it. It sure is cold.

"How cold is it?"

Well, let me tell you--I've had two straight days off work...and I work at home. Right now my weather app informs me that it's 6°, -8° with the wind chill, and that represents a significant increase from what it was yesterday and earlier today, when wind chills dropped below -30°. That's pretty fuckin cold, not to put too fine a point on it. Now, I had every intention of working yesterday, but the office was closed; at some point over the weekend my PC in the office lost power, and there was no one in the building to turn it on for me. I connect to that PC remotely to do the overwhelming majority of my work, and without it I had nothing to do. Even if I had been able to work yesterday, I wouldn't have today, because I would have caught up on everything with nothing new coming in.

The company I work for is in the Toledo area, which was hit even harder by this "polar vortex" than we were here in Troy, about 120 miles south. They were hit with a bunch of snow on Sunday night (the totals I've seen seem to be in the 7-10" range), which we were supposed to get, but which (for the most part) didn't happen here because of much higher temperatures than expected (i.e. we got rain instead). At any rate, the resulting wind and cold have made it nearly impossible to clear the roads in that area; hence, the two-day company closure. I fully expect we'll be back up and running tomorrow, but we'll see.

If it's anything like it is here (and I imagine it's not like it, it's worse), travel is definitely no picnic. Brandi reported yesterday that the interstates were in pretty good shape, at least between here and Columbus (which is east, not north). When I went to the gym around 11:00 this morning, though, I found that the surface streets are still pretty well sheeted with ice here in Troy. I expected it in our neighborhood, which sees little traffic, but I expected Main Street to be in much better shape. I've found the Neon to handle pretty well in snow and ice, especially for such a small car, but today was a slip-and-slide fest until I got a feel for just how bad the streets were.

I'm supposed to travel to Toledo on Thursday and Friday this week for our monthly catalog deadline, so that should be interesting. On the bright side, it's supposed to be significantly warmer by then--we may even rise above freezing! Of course, I also see that the forecast for those days calls for snow and rain, which would mean ice on the roads at the times I'm driving. So, we'll see how it goes--I ended up cutting my trip short last month due to impending snow, and at this point I wouldn't be surprised to see deadline postponed by a day or two to make up for the two days we've lost (that would be unprecedented in my 9+ years with the company, but then, so is a weather-related closure, let alone for two days).

But hey, it's only 37 days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Better days are on the horizon!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Closing, Closing the Year

The title of this post (the second consecutive year I've used it) comes from Stephen King's Wizard and Glass, one of my favorite books, part of his Dark Tower series and, among other things, a particularly fine observation of young, obsessive love. The line, likely because of the part of the tale in which it's used, has always struck me as romantic and melancholy, which seems fitting for this time of year.

Another Christmas has come and gone, and that's just fine with me. I love this time of year, but frankly, this year was just a little off. With Brandi working in Columbus now, she's been spending quite a bit of time over there. We're lucky that she has a place where she can do that even before we procure a living space for ourselves, especially given her schedule and the weather, but not having her around hasn't been much fun for either of us. I'm a loner by nature, so I can appreciate a bit of time to sit in silent communion with the Christmas tree and a glass of wine or whiskey, but I had far more than I needed or wanted. Then, on top of that, Brandi came down with the flu while we were visiting her family on Christmas Eve, so she missed out on those festivities, as well as those with my family the next day. She did feel better in time for the weekend, which was good, but now she's back in Columbus while I'm once again alone with the tree. And the cat, of course.

Next year we've discussed making new arrangements for our holiday celebrations. On one hand, it's nice that it's her family's tradition to celebrate on Christmas Eve and my family's on Christmas Day. It has always allowed us to do both. On the other hand, it's a lot of traveling (her family lives about 2.5 hours away), and for a holiday, it's never been particularly relaxing. And next year, with us living in Columbus, it would add yet another leg to any potential travels. So, while we haven't worked out the details yet, we'd like to change it up. It's hard, because holidays like this are the only chances we have to see some members of our family...and yet, as it stands, it's simply too hectic. We're hoping to travel to an exotic locale for Thanksgiving, at least for one year; we'll see what happens with the Christmas plans.

On the bright side, Brandi will be home by the time I get off work tomorrow, so we'll be able to have a fun (and, most importantly, healthy) New Year's Eve together. Hopefully with a friend or two, but we'll see how it shakes out.

Now, as for this new year coming up...should be a big one. First on the docket, of course, is unloading this house and moving to Columbus. With the holidays almost over, hopefully that won't take too long. I'm not looking forward to moving, not looking forward to leaving Troy...but I am looking forward to living in the Columbus area. We've really enjoyed the parts of it we've explored so far, and there are definite advantages to living in such close proximity to a major city.

Aside from that, there are a few things I'd like to accomplish. I plan to re-read all my Dean Koontz novels--I have a metric assload of them that I loved as a young adult; I have a feeling they haven't aged well, so I need to know which ones I want to keep (no force in the universe could separate me from my copy of Watchers) and which I can offload. Also, come hell or high water, we're getting at least one new car this year, and the sooner the better. Brandi's Neon wants to be put out to pasture in the worst way.

Beyond that...well, look. I've never been any great shakes at keeping New Year's resolutions. In part that's because it's hard to make changes, and in part I think it's because I've tended to take far too much of a macro approach. I say I want "to write more," for example, and come January 1 I'm all fired up. I sit down in front of my computer, my mind overflowing with possibilities--and that's the problem. I've got this great story idea. Oh, but I had that idea for my blog, and that's so timely...if I don't write about it now, I shouldn't bother. Oh, and I really should email so-and-so. Next thing you know, I can't decide what to write, and by January 3, that resolution is toast.

That said, I do like New Year's as a starting point for creating new habits, and thus New Year's resolutions aren't the worst thing in the world. For one, I just need to take a more quantifiable approach. And secondly, I need to revisit them from time to time to evaluate progress (or lack thereof) and adjust or recommit accordingly, so that they don't fall by the wayside just because I haven't revolutionized my life by January 10. As such, consider these my "January resolutions." That will allow me to start small and see how things are going by February, when I can hopefully fine-tune them a bit.

Write more: Yes, this year and every year. Always the best of intentions, always the poor results. So here are my initial quantifiable goals for this month. Number one, I'd like to write at least a brief review of each book I read. Number two, I think one blog entry per week is doable. And number three, I'd like to write at least 1,000 words of fiction per week. That should be no problem if I can sit myself down to write at least 2-3 times, but the plan is to start small. Let's see how that goes for a month, and if that number can be revised upward at some point, so much the better.

Get in shape: Let's be honest: I love fast food, and at this point in my life, I'm not going to stop eating it on occasion. I'm okay with that. But do I really need to maximize the amount of calories I jam into my face each time I do so? I do not. So I'll try ordering "medium" instead of "large" items. Also, for quite a long time, I used to eschew pop except on weekends; I'll try that again. As for working out, I'd like to hit the gym three times per week: two of those visits will be cardio-focused, with the other dedicated primarily to lifting. Again, if this number can go up after a trial period, that's awesome.

So that's what 2014 looks like from this end. I feel pretty optimistic. I mean, we're already moving to Columbus, so at least one big change is definitely coming. Why not take the opportunity to effect a few more?

Friday, November 01, 2013

Piqua 33 Troy 27

Ugh. The story of this game is so much like the story of most of Troy's games this season. Miles Hibbler was spectacular, save for one costly fumble. The Trojans overall made mistake after mistake and were unable to overcome them. After spotting Piqua a big lead, the Trojans were able to come back enough to make it interesting, but they couldn't quite get over the hump for the win.

So yes, in many ways this game was just another familiar refrain, but it was different in two ways. The first is that it was against Piqua, and a loss to them always stings more than a loss to any other team. It's disheartening that the Trojans couldn't get their heads in the game and find a higher level of focus against their archrival, but I guess it's not surprising--if they had achieved that level of focus, then we'd be left to wonder why they hadn't found it sooner. The second difference is that it was the last game of the season, meaning there's no hope that they'll finally put it all together next week. The bad taste in Troy's mouth will last until they tee it up against Chaminade-Julienne at Troy Memorial Stadium on August 29, 2014.

And that's where we stand. The Trojans finish the season at a very disappointing 3-7, 1-4 and in a three-way tie for last place in the GWOC North. It's going to be a long offseason.

One thing that doesn't fit into the game narrative that I wanted to mention: I took the day off from work, which I like to do on the day of the Troy-Piqua game. Usually, in years past, that would mean an early arrival at the stadium to ensure I'd get a seat. With both teams coming into this game at 3-6, I figured the crowd would be smaller than usual for a Troy-Piqua game, so I went at a slightly less insane time. As I crossed the Market Street Bridge, probably just after 6:00, I was stunned to see the stadium nearly empty. By the time the game kicked off at 7:00, there was a decent crowd, but there were plenty of empty seats. Yeah, both teams are down, but man...I just don't get it.

I have some thoughts on that, and on Troy football in general. I'll take a look back at "the season that was" in the next week or so.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Leaving Home

There are strangers wandering through my house right now.

Growing up, I was never that kid who can't wait to graduate high school and get out of town. Far from it, actually; even when I was young, I always liked living in Troy. I realized I'd have to leave in order to go to college, though, and I had no idea what would happen or where life would take me after that. As I spent time away, Troy called to me more and more. I didn't know when I'd be able to do it (even assuming that "not until retirement" was a possibility), but I knew I wanted to get back there, to make it my home again.

As it turned out, it happened way sooner than I ever thought it would or could. Brandi and I got married while she was in grad school, and as she approached graduation, her most appealing job opportunity was in Huber Heights, a very short drive from Troy. I assumed we'd look for a place in Huber, or in one of several towns close to both, but Brandi (who was the one who would have to do the driving--I was able to continue in my own job, telecommuting from wherever we ended up) was cool with living in Troy. We rented a duplex; then, after two years, when our lease was up, we bought a house.

Like getting away from my hometown as soon as possible, home ownership was not something I ever really aspired to. I didn't want the hassle of worrying about maintenance, be it interior or (especially) exterior. A yard? Please. What made us decide to do it, in the end, was mostly just that we wanted to live in a building of our own, without always hearing our neighbors go about their daily activities or having to worry about them being able to hear us (especially given that I'm a night owl by inclination, and I also like loud music).

So we bought a house, and while it turned out that home ownership was just as much of a pain in the ass as I always assumed it would be (mowing? raking? replacing a water heater? ugh), there are some compensations. We could have a pet, for one thing (we actually got Luna while we still lived in the duplex, but it was an illicit sort of thing), and that's one of the best things we've ever done. And we could do what we wanted or needed to do without permission or arrangement from a landlord. Paint a wall a crazy color? Done, done, and done. Need a new dishwasher? Just go get one. We've lived in our house for over four years now, and while there are still some irritations from ownership, I've grown pretty attached to the house itself, particularly the patio, and my office.

Still, living in Troy these past six years hasn't been entirely what I expected, and I don't even know exactly what I mean by that. I do know, for one thing, that despite the fairly large number of family and friends I have in town (or the general area), I rarely see any of them besides my parents, despite good intentions. I also rarely have time to get out and see or do some of the things that give Troy its particular flavor, again despite good intentions. And sometimes I just feel like I've never completely wrapped my head around the fact that we live here.

So now, about a month ago, Brandi got a new job. It's in the Columbus area--Worthington--so it's not exactly a commutable distance, at least not on a long-term basis. That being the case, our house is on the market, and when it sells we'll be leaving Troy behind and setting up shop in a new location, one where, while we're both at least somewhat familiar, neither of us has ever lived.

In fact, the first showing of our house is tonight, right now, which is what I was referring to above. With Brandi out of town for work, I spent last night and a little bit of today getting the house ready for strangers to walk through and appraise it. It's a strange feeling, at least for me--trying to see the place through someone else's eyes, and to try to get it as neat as possible with the realization that we still have to live there in the meantime and can't just stuff everything in a closet or drawer, or relegate it to the shed. It's a fine line, and it's also disconcerting to not be there when other people are, and also to have to leave Luna behind.

At any rate, leaving Troy again is going to be bittersweet. Although it hasn't been what I thought it would be, that doesn't mean I don't love living here, because I do. And as I said, I have come to love our house, if not to be 100% thrilled with owning it. So moving will be an adventure, for all of us (probably Luna most of all--the only places she's ever been since we adopted her are the duplex, our house, and the vet's office). I'm looking forward to exploring a new locale and making a life there, and new adventures with friends we already have in the area as well as any who come visit, as well as new ones we'll make. I'm looking forward to finding a cool apartment where we can live for a year or two while we learn the area and decide if we want to buy another house. Mostly, I'm looking forward to having it over with--if we could fast forward past selling the house and moving all our stuff, that would be fantastic.

Oh, and for those of you who like stopping by for my recaps of Troy football games, worry not--attending them is still on the agenda, despite the move. It'll be a longer drive to get to them, but that's never stopped me before. That's one thing I've missed about being away from Troy, actually--the long drives on Friday evenings were always good for clearing my mind.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Troy 14 Greenville 10

This was not the finest game of football that has been played in the history of the sport. If someone was looking to learn about the game and wanted to see a good example, you would not show them a tape of this one. Still, the fact that the Trojans were able to pull out a win makes it much more palatable. And the fact that they were able to play tough throughout the game and make the plays they needed to eke out a win in the final seconds makes it, potentially, an important game for the program.

Early on it looked like the Trojans would be able to have their way with the Green Wave. After forcing a three-and-out on the opening series, the Trojans moved the ball at will on their first drive, even overcoming three holding penalties. Then, on a first and goal play from the five yard line, tailback Miles Hibbler fumbled, giving Greenville the ball on the one.

That sort of summed up the majority of the game for the Trojans. Any good play was almost immediately negated by a mistake. Long run? Holding call or personal foul. Interception? Turned back over on a fumble. Dropped passes. Missed tackles. It was a comedy of errors that nearly led to a Trojan loss to a Greenville team that was 1-8 coming in. Troy was behind 7-0 until 4:23 left in the fourth quarter, when Hibbler scored from five yards out to tie the game.

Even then, the outcome was still very much in doubt. Greenville took the ensuing kickoff and drove far enough down the field to kick a field goal, making the score 10-7 with just 1:24 left. Many times over the past two seasons, that would have been it for the Trojans. On this night, though, it was not. They marched the ball down the field, mostly via the passing game, which hadn't done much to that point in the game. Finally, Hibbler bulled his way into the endzone again on a monster carry in which he absolutely would not let himself be stopped. With just 11 seconds left at that point, the Trojans were able to secure the win.

So. The Trojans are now 3-6, which is not where they expected or hoped to be at this point of the season...but now that doesn't matter. Now the only thing that matters is the one game remaining on the schedule, the game against the Piqua Indians. Troy's hated archrival is also 3-6 on the season. There are no playoff berths on the line, no league title, just the opportunity for a win and bragging rights over a rival. This will be the 129th meeting between the two teams, with the series standing at 62-60-6 in Troy's favor. My game face is on already. Let's do this.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Trotwood-Madison 72 Troy 6

After the doom and gloom with which I finished my post last week, as the week progressed, I started to come around a little bit. By the time today rolled around, I even felt a little bit optimistic. Not necessarily about a Trojan win, but at least a good showing, a competitive outing. And hey, who knows? Play well, play tough, keep it close, and anything could happen.

Well.

As it turns out, my initial feeling was right. This isn't the best Trotwood team of the past several years, I don't think, but it's easily the worst Troy defense in a long time. The Rams had size and speed all over the field; the Trojans didn't. Add to that an uninspired performance--the Trojans looked like they expected a beating from the very beginning--and you have a defeat of historic proportions. This was the first time a Troy team has ever given up more than 70 points, and it was the most lopsided loss in school history.

At least it wasn't a shutout. The season's bright spot, Miles Hibbler, made sure of that with another long touchdown run on Troy's first series, a 63-yard burst that put the Trojans up 6-0 to start the game. Trotwood kept him contained after that, though, and with the passing game unable to get anything going--QB Matt Barr was running for his life, over- and under-throwing receivers all night long--that was it. After the first series, I'm not sure Troy's offense even got another first down until Trotwood's reserves came in after halftime, and with so many three-and-outs, the Ram offense had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board. Needless to say, they made the most of them, scoring 52 points in the first two quarters.

It'll be interesting to see how the Trojans respond to a game like this. I'd love to think their pride will drive them to unleash their fury on Greenville next week, but we'll see. At this point, with the Trojans at a very surprising and disappointing 2-6, it's impossible to see even the 1-7 Green Wave as a gimme game.