Monday, July 29, 2013

Mütter's Day

I finally got around to visiting the Mütter Museum with my friends Jen and Tim this weekend. All three of us are big fans of John Hodgman and Sarah Vowell, each of whom mention the megacolon in their respective writings. We'd been looking forward to this for a long time.

My friend Frederick is also a fan of the place. He had a poster from the museum in a frame that was clearly many times more expensive than the poster.

En route, we played 20 questions.

The answers were:

We parked for five dollars, which was pretty cheap, and walked a couple blocks to the museum. It was a bit different from what I was expecting.

  1. It was quite a bit smaller than I thought it would be: Just three rooms. Nicely laid out and everything, but that couldn't change how small the place was.
  2. Very well lit: I was expecting to be the kind of place the Franklin Institute was before it was renovated, with expansive, dimly lit halls. But the lighting was very good.
  3. Body parts: I've got a decent general science education, but I'm not a doctor or a biologist, and my last experience with body parts was dissecting a fetal pig more than a decade ago.The thing that struck me is how much smaller the organs were than I was expecting them to be, the brains in particular. Zombie movies have lied to me! 
  4. Accessible: I enjoy science museums, but I do think they cleave much more closely to entertaining than informing. Mütter was no exception, but I thought the exhibits were accessible without being patronizing or simplifying the material to the point of meaninglessness.  
  5. No pictures allowed: I had to resort to a stock photo of the megacolon! #Firstworldproblems
  6. The Megacolon: It wasn't as mega as we were led to believe. We were hoping we could walk through it like the giant heart at the Franklin Institute.
  7. Skullduggery: There was a wall with a good 40 or 50 skulls on it, As a lay person, I tend to think of skulls as pretty uniform, but seeing so many in one space, I couldn't help but notice the significant amount of variation visible even at a causal glance. 
  8. Skullduggery, part two: They had a forensics of Grimm's Fairy tale theme going on in the upper gallery and I really liked one of the paintings that went with it.

Afterwards, we had some lunch, because seeing dozens of anencephalic fetuses in jars really works up an appetite. Afterwards we visited Fat Jack's Comic Crypt and had some gelato at Capogiro's, which was voted the best ice cream in the world by National Geographic. It was pretty yummy. I'm not sure if I've ever had gelato before. I thought it was vegan, but apparently not. 

Todd Ingram: Gelato isn't vegan?
Vegan Policeman: It's milk and eggs, bitch.

Fat Jack's was really nice. I had read about it in Joe Matt's Peepshow, so I was especially interested in seeing it, though it's not like I need an excuse to check out a comic book store. It's really one of the nicest stores I've ever been in. A great, well-organized selection, friendly and knowledgeable staff that seem to enjoy being there, ten terrible comics for a buck in the bargain bins. 

Great visit all around. Next time we return to Philly, it will be to camp in at the Franklin Institute.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Upcoming reviews

Look what I found for a dollar at a local flea market!

I'd been meaning to review the Amber comic for a while, but my wife accidentally sold my copies a while back. 

Also pending, the Jack of Shadows album!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Shining in the Darkness: A Wrinkle in Time

There are passages in fiction that still get me choked up every time I read them. The first is the scene with Miser Shen in Bridge of Birds. I wrote about that a while back.

Meanwhile I will cry, 'Ah Chen, your father is here!' I can but weep for you, and call your name."

Another is from the end of the Last Unicorn:

Prince Lír stood between her body and the Bull, weaponless, but with his hands up as though he thought he still held a sword and shield. Once more in that endless night the prince said, "No." He looked very foolish, and he was about to be trampled flat. The Red Bull could not see him, and would kill him without ever knowing that he had been in the way. Wonder and love and great sorrow shook Schmendrick the Magician then, and came together inside him and filled him, filled him until he felt himself brimming and flowing with something that was none of these. He did not believe it, but it came to him anyway, as it had touched him twice before and left him more barren than he had been. This time, there was too much of it for him to hold; it spilled through his fingers and toes, welled up equally in his eyes and his hair and the hollows of his shoulders. There was too much to hold — too much ever to use; and still he found himself weeping with the pain of his impossible greed. He thought, or said, or sang, I did not know that I was so empty, to be so full.

The Lady Amalthea lay where she had fallen, though now she was trying to rise, and Prince Lir still guarded her raising his naked hands against the enormous shape that loomed over him. The tip of the prince's tongue stuck out of one corner of his mouth, making him look as serious as a child taking something apart. Long years later, when Schmendrick's name had become a greater name than Nikos's and worse than afreets surrendered at the sound of it, he was never able to work the smallest magic without seeing Prince Lir before him, his eyes squinted up because of the brightness and his tongue sticking out.

The third comes from A Wrinkle in Time. I love this book. I read it for the first time in the fifth grade. I went to a tiny little grade school, and I had an absolutely astounding number of truly excellent teachers. Mrs. Race had the class read the book (We each got our own paperback copy and I wouldn't be surprised if she paid for them all out of her own pocket), and it remains one of my all-time favorites to this day.

I think the religious elements of the work would keep it out of most classrooms today (and Mrs. Race was probably pushing the envelope of what was acceptable even back then, but she was awesome that way), but it really shaped my adult understanding of what goodness is.

I've touched on this before, with my pieces on Mister Rogers and Superman, but I still believe in goodness, in the human potential, and the human obligation to be good.I'm an atheist now, and I have been for a long time, but I still think it's the best argument for Christianity that I've ever read. I don't believe in supernatural forces of Good and Evil, but natural forces of good and evil exist all around us. Evil isn't glamorous; it's weak and afraid. Good isn't naive or weak or foolish; it's strong and tender, and above all, loving.

Now, I like a good Revenger's Tragedy of Jacobian Demigods as much as anyone, but not every jerk is a Byronic Hero. Sometimes he's just a thug with a grudge. I enjoy reading about heroes who are essentially good people, but it seems that there are too few, with goodness too often a mask or a sham. I don't want to be nostalgic for a past that never was, but I'm more acutely aware of this tendency with a child of my own. Subversion of apparent goodness is done so often that it's what I expect from a storytelling perspective. It's nice to see goodness played straight once in a while.

It's a rare story that features unambiguous goodness. The only pop culture example that springs immediately to mind is Avatar: The Last Airbender. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I like faults in my characters, and I like nuance, and an easy way of injecting some is introducing certain shades of grey to a character. 

Madeleine L'Engle
With that said, I think that L'Engle does a wonderful job depicting a variety of flawed, but good characters. Meg is impatient, temperamental and poisoned with doubt and Charles Wallace's pride almost swallows him. But their love for each other (and the love they learn to give themselves) lets them pull through.

The author of a Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle, didn't publish the book until she was 44, which is inspiring in its own way. Its publication was delayed by the fact that it's a difficult book for children to read, but it's probably still a children's book, (it won a Newberry Medal after all) and it was a science fiction book with a female lead, which L'Engle said, "just wasn't done at the time." (I think that the argument can be made, unfortunately, that it still isn't done.)

To get to the ostensible point of this post, the passage that I like is that when the characters are in the cave of the Happy Medium and the characters are talking about humans who have opposed the darkness.

"Who have our fighters been?" Calvin asked.

"Oh, you must know them, dear," Mrs. Whatsit said.

Mrs. Who's spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

"Jesus!" Charles Wallace said. "Why of course, Jesus!"

"Of course!" Mrs. Whatsit said. "Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They've been lights for us to see by."

"Leonardo da Vinci?" Calvin suggested tentatively. "And Michelangelo?"

"And Shakespeare," Charles Wallace called out, "and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!"

Now Calvin's voice rang with confidence. "And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!"

What can I say? I love the sentiment of poets and scientists and humanitarians as the champions of humanity. 

It also led to this exchange.

Lily: Who was Einstein?
Me: You've probably seen a picture of him. He was a scientist with crazy hair.
Lily: Is he the guy who walks around the street in the Simpsons game?
Me: (Pause) No, that's Sideshow Bob.
(Later on, I showed her a picture and she said he looked familiar. She just didn't know the name to put to the face)

I commented that I liked this book because it has so many girls in it. Lily replied "Of Course. Everybody loves super cool girls. Meg is nice and kind and smart and pretty."

And, of course, not everyone does love super cool girls. Books and movies are still created with adolescent boys (and arrested adolescent boys) in mind and women and girls as heroes are pitifully underrepresented. But I hope that she hangs on to that belief for as long as she can, and I hope that, by the time that she would see that it's not true, that things have changed to the point that it is, and she has all the super cool girls she could ever want.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Review: Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman

My friend Tim was the first person to show me a copy of Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald and when I was done reading it, I proclaimed "That was the second best Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper/Cthulhu Mythos crossover story I've ever read!" (1)

If I wanted to broaden my statement slightly to to include Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper/horror stories in general (still not the most crowded arena), I think that Study drops down to third place, because Anno Dracula is just astounding. (2)

It's an alternate history story where Count Dracula's plans were not foiled by Van Helsing and his crew, but instead, he becomes the prince consort to Queen Victoria and transforms her, and, through his offspring, a certain percentage of the population of England, to vampires. This precipitates a rather large change in society, as one might expect.

The first chapter is from the point of view of Jack Seward, one of Van Helsing's cohorts from Dracula. Now, normally, I'd spoiler tag this kind of thing, but since it's the first chapter, what's the point? Jack Seward is Silver Knife, aka Jack the Ripper, and he's killing vampire prostitutes. 

It's a gutsy move, but I think it works. Alfred Hitchcock is well known for his explanation about the difference between "surprise" and "suspense". Surprise is a boring conversation followed by an explosion from a bomb hidden beneath the table and is good for 15 seconds of fright. Suspense is that same conversation, except the audience knows about the bomb and it's good for 15 minutes of fright.

Seward is crazy and haunted and broken, he hates what Dracula has done to England, but he's not unsympathetic. He runs a clinic where one of the main volunteers and that adds to the tension.

We get a bunch of strong female characters, which I always like. Geneviève Dieudonné is an elder vampire, and I was surprised that she was noteworthy enough to merit a wikipedia article of her own. (Also, it has a picture, and she's blonde. I always imagined her looking like Sophie Marceau.)

Le Sigh. That's my girlfriend!

She was a physician's daughter in her mortal life, and when the story begins, she's working at Seward's clinic, until she's conscripted into the investigation by Inspector Lestrade of Sherlock Holmes fame. 

This is the arena where I think Anno Dracula succeeds so brilliantly. It overflows with both historical and fictional characters of the era, as disparate as Beatrice Potter to Barnabas Collins. It's a great deal of fun trying to identify this character or that. (The sequel, if possible, is stuffed even fuller. Even minor characters are cameos from some other story. Any book with Snoopy from Peanuts, Pinhead from Hellraiser, Jay Gatsby, Monk Mayfair (3) AND Edgar Allen Poe as the Red Baron's biographer is okay with me!)

We also get Charles Beauregard, a widowed agent of the Diogenes Club, which in this series is a front for the British secret service, who has become engaged to his late wife's cousin, Penelope .It's a great bit of character study, because he they both know that Pamela was his first choice. 

Kate Reed, young vampire reporter (and reportedly a character cut from an early draft of Dracula) is all kinds of awesome. Newman really writes women well. (If you're wondering and not familiar with his work, he's a boy Kim and not a lady Kim.)

The stakes get higher, as underworld figures find the increased law enforcement activity putting a crimp in their style. I really enjoyed the resolution, too.

It's a great book and I'm looking forward to the fourth in the series. 

1- I guess, despite the time frame and the opening murder, in Whitechapel, Emerald isn't actually considered a "Jack the Ripper" story. However, I was under that impression at the time, and calling it a Sherlock Holmes/Murder in Whitechapel/Cthulhu Mythos story.

2- The first, being, of course, A Night in the Lonesome October.

3- Since we had Doc Savage and John Sunlight in Roadmarks, I would like to believe they exist in the same continuity as the Anno Dracula books. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Let it grow

Lily is not infrequently pouty, bratty and way too smart for her own good. However, she's occasionally very sweet. She liked getting notes in her lunch and, now that school is out for Summer, she's taken to writing notes for me. She wrote this note today and I really think it's one of the nicest things anyone has ever made for me.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Crossover Combat: Battle of the Scorpions

Now for something completely different.

The blog has mostly been lying fallow lately, so let's see what I can do to change that.

Today's post offers the Battle of the Scorpions!

The Contestants

Mortal Kombat Scorpion

I was a teenager in the 90s, and video arcades were still a thing back then. Street Fighter II revitalized a moribund genre, and it spawned a horde of imitators. Most of them are forgotten, some were absolutely unique, and some were good enough to stand on their own, and with the second generation came Mortal Kombat.

I liked the first two Mortal Kombat games a lot. They looked great, played differently and they had a neat Enter the Dragon mythology going. That mythology eventually got so convoluted that it strangled itself and required a reboot (!!), but for a while it was different and really fun.

Scorpion is a guy who evidently saw April O'Neil's bright yellow jumpsuit and thought, "Hey, that color would look good on me."

He's an undead ninja with a spear and a great catch phrase.

Marvel Scorpion

When my friend Frederick told me that Scorpion would be showing up in Injustice: Gods Among Us as DLC, I thought he meant this guy. Then I thought, "Wait, he's a Marvel character. What's he doing in a DC game?"

Apparently, shitting all over Superman wasn't enough for Ed Boon. He had to stick his own characters in a DC fighting game. Boo!

Growing up, I was never sure what the deal was with the Scorpion. Was he some kind of mutant? Was there an experiment/accident? Was that his body or a suit?

(No. Yes. A suit.)

I liked him. Spider-Man always had some pretty great rogues and he had a distinctive enough look that I didn't mind not knowing what his deal was.

His backstory is arguably even more convoluted than that of the other Scorpion's. Lost his suit, learned Spider-Man's secret identity, forgot Spider-Man's secret identity, the usual roller coaster that any long-lived comic book character goes through.

Recently, he bonded with the Venom symbiote, got in a fight with Namor and incapacitated him by ripping off his ankle wings, which scientists have proven is the most awesome sentence in the English language.

He's described as physically superior to Spider-Man, who is mid-range superhuman. Plus his tail could be packing anything from acid to plasma blasts.

Hank Scorpio

Hey, look at my feet. You like those moccasins?

Homer Simpson's one time boss, owner of a Doomsday Device, mastermind of Project Arcturus and ruler of America's East Coast.

A James Bond Supervillain, he's notable for actually winning in his first and only appearance. +10 for being awesome, +1000 for disappearing before we get sick of you. (Lindsey Naegle, I'm talking to you.)

An actual scorpion

Aren't they the coolest looking animal ever?! 


Hank Scorpio versus an actual scorpion: Unless it sneaks into his boot when he's not looking, I give this one to Scorpio. Winner: Hank Scorpio

Hank Scorpio versus MK Scorpion:  For the purposes of this piece, we're giving Hank Scorpio all the accoutrements of a mastermind. So he gets his volcano base, his goons, the whole shebang. I give this one to Scorpion. He is a teleporting ninja, after all. He sneaks in and assassinates Scorpio, whose minions don't realize anything is amiss until they shake their peacefully snoozing boss and his head falls off his hammock. Winner: Scorpion.

Hank Scorpio versus Marvel Scorpion: Marvel Scorpion is many things, but stealthy is not one of them. He smashes his way into the Volcano Base and starts breaking things, but doesn't get more than a few rooms in before he's fibrillated apart by the Gehenna Gun. Winner: Hank Scorpio.

MK Scorpion versus actual Scorpion: MK Scorpion steps on it without even noticing. Winner: MK Scorpion.

MK Scorpion versus Marvel Scorpion: I think this one goes to Marvel Scorpion. He's physically superior to Spider-Man and has a bunch of gadgets in his tail.  MK Scorpion wouldn't have the chance to leverage his stealth like he would against Hank Scorpio, and while he's a passable fighter by fighting game standards, he regularly loses to woman who comes to a tournaments in her sports bra and hot pants. (Sorry Sonya fans) Mortal Kombat Scorpion gets smeared. Winner: Marvel Scorpion

Marvel Scorpion versus actual scorpion: Marvel Scorpion picks it up, thinking it wants to be his friend, whereupon it stings him in the face. Winner: Actual Scorpion.

And as my misunderstanding of the transitive property shows, (Hank Scorpio beaten by Mortal Kombat Scorpion beaten by Marvel Scorpion beaten by an actual scorpion) the actual scorpion wins the tournament. All hail our arachnid overlords!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Game Review: Smash Up!

I read about Smash Up on another blog and it sounded like so much fun that I went right out and bought a copy.

Here's how I explained it to Lily:

You can choose from two of these different factions and mix them together into one team, like alien-robots or dinosaur-pirates. The factions are aliens, zombies-
Lily: I want to see the zombies!
Me: -pirates, ninja, pixies-
Lily: zombies.
Me: -robots-
Lily: zombies.
Me: -and wizards. Hey, that kid looks like Harry Potter. So, which group did you want to see first?
Lily: ...zombies.

Lily likes zombies. I think she's spending a little too much time with my friend Frederick.

Each player chooses any two of the factions and combines them into one deck. (Things my parents never said to me "Be sure to shuffle your pirates in with your zombies.")

Each faction has its own gimmick. Zombies come back from the dead, ghosts (a faction from the expansion set) grow more powerful the fewer cards you have in hand, pirates move around quickly, robots can assemble themselves quickly and can work around the only-play-one-minion-per-turn rule, etc.

In addition to the factions, there are a couple base cards, each of which award a certain amount of Victory Points when the total power of all the minions at that base surpasses the power of the base. 15 victory points wins you the game.

The art is bright and clear and colorful and it has an undeniably sense of whimsy.  The cardstock is solid and they should hold up to multiple shufflings.

Jen and Lily and I decided to play a game. The rules are pretty straightforward, and the cards describe exceptions to them (play an extra action this turn, play this card from your discard pile) clearly and concisely. I played robot-wizards, Jen was ninja-tricksters and Lily had zombie-pirates.  ("Daddy, daddy! I found a girl one! And she's kind of pretty for a zombie!")

The game says it is for players 12 and up, which seems very conservative. Lily is only six years old. A very precocious six, but still, a kid with only six years worth of experience and brain development. She played fine on her turns and was able to read everything on the cards, but she didn't always puzzle out the ramifications of the mechanics. (Which is to say, she understood that card A did X, but not the best time or place to play it in order to get the maximum benefit.) Also, her attention tended to wander when other people were taking their turn. With a little more experience though, I think she'll be able to play without coaching.

We played with 3 people and that's probably the sweet spot. (The box says 2-4 players) In general, a player only takes actions on his or her turn (though there are a couple exceptions), so additional players don't slow the game down to the extent additional players slow down the game in Magic or Munchkin.

We've only played one game, but both Lily and I have been thinking about different decks we might assemble. (She wants pirate-ghosts next time, but doesn't want anyone else playing her beloved zombies. I'm not sure if the robot-zombie deck I'm imagining is worth the epic sulk it will beget). Just by its nature, it seems endlessly replayable. I am very happy with this game. Real life friends, next time you're in the neighborhood on Game Night, swing on over and play a game or two!

Book Review: Sinner, by Greg Stolze

In which Josh reviews a science fiction book published in the current century!

When a friend told me that Greg Stolze was funding a supervillain novel though kickstarter, I was all over that.  Though I've read some of his fiction, I'm most familiar with Stolze through his role-playing work. He was one of the guys behind Unknown Armies, which I consider the best horror RPG of the last 20 years. It's one of those games where the themes mesh so perfectly with the mechanics. The setting is brilliant, the NPCs are memorable, and everything that exists in the game seems to belong there.

So I pledged at the $15 level, which got me a PDF right away, and will get me a physical copy once they've been printed.

Stolze's book is called Sinner and it tells the tale of its namesake, a reluctant supervillain who turns himself into police custody after a particularly momentous super-fight. The early book covers his surrender, trial and incarceration. We get some flashbacks and some details about his past, and some information about the other super-beings in the world.

I really liked the supporting characters. Probe-5, which struck me as a particularly ingenious variation on the Martian Manhunter, the Cephalopod and, of course, Black Marvel, whom I imagine as looking like Captain Marvel's nemesis, Black Adam, by dint of his name.

Some minor spoilers will follow, but nothing that gives away too much.

Minor Spoilers
Minor Spoilers
Minor Spoilers
Minor Spoilers
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Minor Spoilers

I think my biggest problem with the book is that Sinner's long imprisonment didn't really mean anything in any significant way; it was just an excuse to get him out of circulation while the events that would drive the larger story moved forward.

The other problem is that the foreshadowing was too blatant. There are newspaper clippings, which describe the loss of Earth's colonies further out in the solar system, and at one point, Probe-5 shows up on a late night talk show and says that an alien force is going to demolish our solar system for a hyperspace bypass Dyson Sphere. He also tells Sinner that he (Sinner) is an alien.

I'm reluctant to call it foreshadowing because the big reveal amounts to "You know that stuff we came right out and said? It's true, and here are some more details."

However...that doesn't mean I don't like the book. On the contrary. You could probably have chopped out eighty pages in the prison and replaced them with "Eight years passed with me in jail and not much happened," without affecting the larger story, but I wouldn't want to. Stolze gives Sinner a fantastically engaging voice. He's just fun to read.

As anyone who has ever borrowed a book from me will know, I tend to dogear the pages of my books when I come across an interesting concept, or a phrase I wish I had written. I didn't do that much here. Aside from really interesting bits about the Black Marvel and Javelin, it wasn't the concepts that drove the books. But, as with Stolze's work with Unknown Armies, absolutely everything fit perfectly. Sinner's narration didn't have a lot of high concepts or memorable sound bites, but it moved so smoothly that I read the entire book within a day, and I can't remember the last time I did that.

The ending? Well, I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's the kind of ending that puts everything that came before it in a new context. I think I'd have to read the book again before I can say what I think of the ending.

I give the book a solid B. You should buy it so Greg Stolze will have more money to make more cool stuff.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Eye of Cat - Revised Review

Okay, I said I would return to Eye of Cat and here I am.

I still don't particularly care for the story, but I'm not at all happy with my first review, so as promised, I'm revising it. This site is supposed to be a celebration of Zelazny's work and it didn't deserve the snark.

Here's where I'm coming from with the story. I think it's an okay Zelazny story. Not Lord of Light, but not Lord Demon either. In any body of work, you'll have some stories that are better than others, and this one lands squarely in the middle.

For a couple of reasons, my opinion has been colored by some factors in place during the time when I first encountered the book, and because of those, I had a very different experience than I would have otherwise, and I think, these factors really diminished my enjoyment of the book.

A big part of it is that I saw the man behind the curtain before I even read it, by dint of having read Zelazny's essay (Constructing a Science Fiction Novel) about its construction. Seeing how the sausage was made shattered the illusion for me.  That's not to say that the same deliberation didn't go into his other works.  Of course it did. I'm reminded of a line I always liked from Creatures of Light and Darkness, where Horus is speculating on Wakim's identity "Such champions do not spring full-grown from the void." Zelazny, was one of the most accomplished writers of his generation, and doubtless leveraged all the tools available to an author to craft a compelling story in his other books.

The word artificial has a number of different definitions, but the one that comes closest to describing the word as it was originally used is "Created by humans". Forgive me if I belabor this point, but Eye of Cat strikes me as artificial in that sense, and lacks the verisimilitude of Zelazny's other worlds.

I wrote in my review of the Stainless Steel Leech, of all things, that I felt that "there is something in Zelazny's writing that lets me believe that his characters live in a real world, and things happened as they happened because his characters made the choices they did, and had they chosen differently, their stories would have unfolded in a complete different direction."

He also expressed the opinion that the author should know more than he states in the body of the text, and that's another thing that bothered me about Eye of Cat. There's no mystery to it.

And, I'm the first to admit, that this is an issue with me and not with the story. Yes, Zelazny was effusive in talking about the techniques employed in the book, but one presumes he was happy about how it came out and wanted to share them. It's silly to fault him for that. However, having read all that stuff before I read the book itself, I could see the seams and the solder that made it up, and consequently, it seemed artificial in a way his other books didn't.

All this adds up to a book I was unlikely to enjoy. I've returned to it several times, but, once you see the picture hidden in an optical illusion, you can't go back to not seeing it, and whenever I encounter the techniques employed in the book, such as the data dumps on the psychics, it takes me out of the narrative, because I'm acutely aware of why they are there.

This tells you a lot about me and next to nothing about the book. Briefly, William Blackhorse Singer is a Navajo shaman and tracker, who grew up in a neolithic environment, went to the stars and on his return, found there was no longer a place for him.

Those are interesting elements, though I like how they were handled in This Moment of the Storm a bit more.

Billy is called out of retirement to protect an alien ambassador from an assassin. To do so, he releases Cat, a shape-shifter which he initially thought of as merely a cunning animal, but which he later realizes possesses telepathy and true intelligence.

Cat only wants one thing, and his death, and Billy offers it in exchange for Cat's service. Cat comes through and protects the alien secretary-general and then comes to kill Billy, but pauses on seeing that Billy will not fight back.

If that is what it takes, yes. I see now that there would be small pleasure in slaying you like some brainless piece of meat that waits to be slaughtered. My full revenge requires the joy of the hunt. So I will make you an offer, and I will have you know that my promise will be as good as yours, Billy Singer - for I cannot let you beat me even in that thing.

Go. Flee. Cover your trail, tracker.I will give you what I judge to be an hour- and I am fairly good at estimating time - and then I will pursue you. You tracked me for nearly eight days. Let us call it a week. Keep alive for that long and I will renounce my claim upon your life. We will go our ways,
free of one another.

And what will be the rules? Billy asked.

Rules? If you can kill me before I kill you, by all means do so.In any manner.Go anywhere that you wish by any means that you choose. Anything is fair. There are no rules in the hunt. Live out the week and you will be rid of me. You will not make it, though.

Who can say?

What is your answer?

I do like that exchange. Perhaps another thing that threw me is how much it subverts the Zelaznian Revenger's Tragedy model.

Zelazny has described Jack as "a wrongfully punished man whose character was twisted by the act"  which is a common enough theme in his works that it made it into my Roger Zelazny drinking game.

Cat is the wrongfully punished being, injured not through Billy's malice, but his ignorance. Cat hates what it has become through Billy's actions.

So the Navajo in the velveteen shirt fled across the desert, and the torglind metamorph followed. The psychics who had been gathered to help protect the alien ambassador stick around to help Billy.

Billy runs from Cat and struggles with his own death wish, reverting to a more primitive mindset as he does so. Cat pursues him, Billy overcomes it and may or may not be dead by the end of the book.

I'll never be a fan of the book, but hopefully I've articulated the reasons for that a little more clearlythis time. There are certainly elements in the book that I enjoy and, while it's never going to be one of my favorites, at least I can say I enjoyed it this time around.