Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Felicia Day Pwns My Heart

**Another reprint from Pop Kultr.**

I’m an unabashed nerd. If it’s random or odd or geeky, I’m probably into it. Really, the only reason I don’t have a Mac is because I’m also a broke nerd. But I carry my iPhone with pride, and I pwn zombies in Left 4 Dead (not to mention, I have my own actual Zombie Apocalypse escape plan; Organize BEFORE They Arise!), and I’ve been to the Buffy musical sing-a-long. And with all that comes the pointless pining for nerd objects of desire. Natalie Portman, Summer Glau, Sarah Michelle Gellar…these are the ladies of nerdy dreams. And recently, a new idol has been added to this pantheon…Felicia Day.

My first encounter with Felicia Day was in the original airing of Season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where she played one of the potential Slayers (though I wouldn’t remember this until recently when I watched the DVDs). She was awkward and cute, and she survived until the end, which was no mean feat given the enormity of the situation before the Slayers.

Cut to a few years later (What? I’m not sure how many. If you really care, you too have the webternet on which to look such things up; I can’t be arsed) when a little mini-musical called Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog was taking the internet by storm. Two of its leads, Nathan Fillion and Neil Patrick Harris, were well known within the nerd community: Fillion from Firefly and Serenity, and Harris from How I Met Your Mother and nostalgia. The musical was funny and dark, and the songs had that solid-but-fun feel that Joss Whedon first introduced in the special Buffy musical episode, Once More With Feeling. But songs about an also-ran villian and his smarmy nemesis, while clever, would not be enough to carry this little phenomenon through three episodes and into countless portable devices. No, what it needed was a center, a beating heart on which to hinge all the silliness. And that beating heart was Felicia Day.

Ms. Day is no opera singer. Her voice is a little thin and wispy, but it’s true. There’s no bombast or overkill to her singing, just sweet simplicity. Penny drove Dr. Horrible more than his need to be in the Evil League of Evil, more than his quest for power, even if he didn’t acknowledge it. And it’s not until the end, when she dies as a result of one of his malfunctioning contraptions (SPOILER ALERT), that Dr. Horrible truly becomes evil. He no longer can feel anything, because his heart has been ripped out.

I ached with Dr. Horrible when Penny died. It’s a tribute to Felicia Day’s presence and skill that her death in this silly little musical could be so affecting. Nerd tears fell the world over the day Act 3 was released, and Ms. Day became the new girl every unloved boy (and some unloved girls) would give their Macs to meet.

I recently watched Ms. Day’s ode to gamer nerds everwhere, The Guild, in its entirety. It’s a funny, and kindly mocking, slice-of-life examination of a World of Warcraft-esque guild and its members. Her character, Codex, is awkward, shy and unsure of herself…in other words, just like every nerd in the history of ever. But she’s also smart and dryly funny, and pretty darn cute to boot (anybody want a peanut?). Zaboo (Sandeep Parikh) represents all of us when he becomes smitten with her. Codex also represents another part of all nerds, the one that always longs just a little to be one of the cool kids (illustrated by her lust for the douche-y stuntman), but will keep plugging along when it doesn’t work out.

I hope Ms. Day continues to get work and be prolific. She is talented, and smart, and witty, and she’s one of us (gooble gobble gooble gobble). And we could do a lot worse than her as a representative.

You can find all episodes of The Guild at www.watchtheguild.com, or you can buy the DVDs on Amazon. Seriously, check that business out!

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Extraordinarily Ordinary - Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

**This is a reprint from Pop Kultr, the new blog to which I'm contributing. You should check it out. It's shiny.**

I’m a diehard fan of superheroes. While I don’t read a lot of the “capes” comics, I’m fascinated by the almost infinite power of Superman, the self-made status and limitless genius of Batman, the…uh…boobs of Wonder Woman. (Mental note: look up definition of “misogyny”). I long for the day when my brain decides to stop being lazy and taps into one of the MANY latent super powers I’m sure I contain. The day I can wave my hand and have my remote fly into it using only my mind will be the happiest day of my life. I will follow the remote pretty quickly with my phone so as to make an appointment with the cardiologist I’ll need when my new telekinetic lifestyle takes its toll.

The allure of super powers in the real world is a common one, and the primary stomping grounds of Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman. It deals largely with the newest world-conquering plot by its main antagonist, Doctor Impossible, and the disappearance of the world’s greatest superhero, the Superman analogue CoreFire. Doctor Impossible shares narration duties with Fatale, a cyborg and the newest member of the newest incarnation of the world’s greatest superhero team, the Champions. The two narrative threads tell the story from both the villain’s and hero’s perspective, and dovetail nicely at the end for the climactic battle.

Doctor Impossible is the smartest man in the world (he claims to have an IQ over 300), and he uses his intellect, along with a few minor powers gained from one of many lab accidents, to create vast, Rube Goldberg-ian devices with which he regularly attempts to take over the world. “Attempts” being the operative word. When the novel opens, the Doctor is in prison after the failure of his (I believe) 11th attempt at world domination, and he quickly breaks out to set in motion attempt #12. Impossible is, at heart, a nerd. He was the small kid who was too smart for his own good, who was either ignored or picked on, and who internalized every moment of pain and humiliation. Despite his multiple failures and arrests, none plague him so much as the one that should have made him a household name, but instead created CoreFire, the most powerful man in the world and the Doctor’s primary nemesis. Impossible’s ego makes itself known frequently in his passages and in the description of his past creations, but you get the sense that he’s really just trying to get the cool kids to pay attention to him, and he frequently muses as to whether he made the best choice in becoming a villian.

The other voice in the novel is one of the newest cool kids, the cyborg Fatale. Fatale was created by an independent company after a horrible traffic accident essentially destroyed half of her body. The company subsequently goes belly up, and so Fatale becomes a mercenary for the US Government so as to pay for the expensive maintenance her robotic parts require. Fatale joins the New Champions partly for the allure of working with the world’s greatest heroes, but mainly to keep herself fed and running properly. Fatale’s sections are infused with a sense of sadness. Despite the amazing things she can do, she’s still just a woman who lost her ordinary life in a horrific way, and longs for the days when she didn’t weigh 450 lbs. or when men would look at her as anything other than an oddity. Fatale is us, amazed at the wondrous beings around her, but confused and a little frightened by the extraordinary world in which she lives.

Grossman populates the books with a number of other “meta-humans” that keep the pace moving and also keep you interested in the variety of powers and abilities that exist within this world. There’s Blackwolf, the non-powered human who is this book’s version of Batman; Elphin, who claims to be a fairy; Feral, a half man-half tiger; and Damsel, who is half-alien, half-human, and one of the few heroes with inherited powers. There are numerous other minor characters mentioned in passing, but Grossman provides an index at the end of the book to keep track of who’s who and who has what powers and abilities.

Despite the presence of all these magnificent characters, Grossman keeps the book down to Earth by making most of the characters basically human in desires and limitations. Small details, like Blackwolf’s use of painkillers, or the home imprisonment and slow decline of Baron Ether, Doctor Impossible’s idol, make the book feel very real and grounded in a world we mostly understand. Grossman often references past heroic exploits as though they are common knowledge, immersing his readers in this world he’s created. And through it all is Doctor Impossible and Fatale, two (mostly) normal people gifted with amazing abilities. They are both searching for something incredibly normal: intimacy and connection. There’s a sad irony that they could each be the thing the other is looking for, but will never find because they stand on opposite sides of the law.

Ultimately, I think this is Grossman’s point. Super powers are incredible, and the things you can do with them delight the imagination. But in the end we’re all human, and all we want is someone like us to keep away the darkness. Grossman’s heroes are extraordinary, but the things that make them amazing are also the things that make them feel alone. What’s more ordinary than that?

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Pop goes your head

For those few of you who are interested, I'm now contributing to a new pop culture blog started by my friend Jess. I don't know how much I'll be adding to it, but I will post the occasional article. My first is a review of Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman. It's not my usual of original fiction or douchey whining about inner turmoil, but it's something!

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

A few thoughts

Change can be a slow process, especially when you're talking in terms of human personalities. It feels like change SHOULD occur at the speed of thought; I want to be different, so I become different. But who we are as people is imbedded in our minds, in the hardwired neural pathways that make us who we are, so deeply that change never comes as easily as we want. And so we struggle and flail against these ingrained personality quirks, and we make progress at a glacial rate. But the inability to change fully, immediately, feels like failure and therefore slows the progress even further. We are Br'er Rabbit fighting the tar baby, pushing so hard to change without realizing we are simply enmeshing ourselves further into the problem.

This is not to say change is impossible. I fully believe that with determination, belief, and the power of a strong will, we can alter those things about ourselves that make us feel incomplete or off-kilter. Habits can be broken or formed with enough effort. Still, even the strongest of wills can be eroded by the frustration to be found in slow progress.

Why all this focus on change and its frustrations? I'm dealing with certain personal issues, things about myself which push people away, and my inability to make it different NOW has brought me to a dark place. This dark place is familiar, one I visit often (though less frequently with each passing year; further evidence of the possibility of change). Most of this is internal. I berate myself for being this way or acting that way, for numerous quirks that I feel limit me as a fully realized person. But this internal struggle evinces itself in outward expressions: surliness, a general air of depression, a shortness with those in my small circle of friends.

I have a friend. This friend is, in relative terms, a new friend. I'm not known to be extremely outgoing, and meeting new people and making new friends is difficult for me. But I connected to this new friend quickly, and have come to care for the friend deeply in a short period of time. This care is in no way romantic or anything other than a connection between two like-minded people. For a long period of time this friend and I often spent time together, and it was always light and fun and full of laughs. Recently, I've begun to sense some distance between us, a cooling if you will. Nothing hostile, nothing intentionally hurtful, but a growing feeling that things are changing. THIS kind of change happens quickly, often without warning. Changes out of your control seem to come out of nowhere and can take your legs out from under you with little or no effort.

When I first sensed the change, I flailed and worried, trying everything I could to prove to myself I was being paranoid or was just simply wrong. And I'm still not denying that this could simply be me conflating two unrelated issues, i.e. my own personal demons and a change in circumstance for the friend. It wouldn't be the first time (I'm a perpetual self-blamer). But the longer it goes on, the more convinced I become that this is a genuine change in the tenor of our friendship, and I attribute this largely to my own shortcomings. I feel many things very intensely. I like to affect a laconic air most of the time, keeping my words sparse and my emotions in check, but internally everything feels immense and immediate. When it comes to my expression of care or concern for people, I have few filters. I am intensely in favor of those I care about. This intensity can push people away when they confuse it for other things, like romantic feelings. And the more they back away, the harder I try to pull them back in, which only serves to complete the loop. Loss and isolation are my biggest fears, but no one creates those circumstances for me faster than I do.

So I'm telling myself to back away, to let it go and have enough faith in myself to believe that my friendship is valuable, and that a little time and distance can restore what I feel slipping away. I choose to believe that I'm valuable to this person, and that when the friend sees that I'm capable of backing away, the concerns he/she has will be diminished and we can return to the lighter days. And if I'm wrong and the distance has nothing to do with my intensity (I'm often a negative narcissist), then distance won't hurt anyway. It will allow time for the circumstances which have created this situation to resolve themselves while also allowing me to return to a more level, positive state of mind. It's not easy, like any change, but it's worth the effort.

Thanks for reading (if there are any of you left). I promise in the future to return to what you're used to here, wacky shenanigans and hastily written short fiction. On a less serious note, I'm currently working on a new story that I'm pretty excited about, so watch this space if you're a fan of my writing.