Television Review – “ROUND 21: Dune vs Legend of Earthsea ” – by Nick Housewright

Versus Round 21 Cover

The Wrong Way, and the Right Way

The Fight: Continuing my increasingly sprawling look at the SyFy channel’s programming, it’s time to move on to the miniseries. One of the channel’s earlier major investments was in the year 2000: a six hour adaptation of Frank Herbert’s legendary science fiction novel Dune (fittingly titled Frank Herbert’s Dune for its television release). This miniseries was successful enough that the channel greenlit a similarly successful sequel miniseries, Children of Dune, in 2003. Unfortunately, the later books in the series conform much less to the heroes-journey archetypes that is SyFy’s bread and butter. So, rather than continue on with the later novels, SyFy turned to another popular book series. In late 2004, the channel attempted to adapt Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea novels as Legend of Earthsea. Let’s just say… there was never any sequel to this miniseries.

What are the shows about? Dune has often been referred to as the greatest science fiction book ever written, and regardless of how true this is, there is no doubt that it is incredibly influential. Still, while the book was somewhat written to follow a classic adventure narrative, that of Paul Atreides’ (Alec Newman) attempts to get revenge on the evil house Harkonnen that killed his father and destroyed his house (and I mean House in the game of thrones royal kingdom sense here), the novel’s sprawling plot threads involving politics, religion, and economics, make a straight adaptation extremely difficult. Briefly: Atreides flees with his mother Lady Jessica (Saskia Reeves) to the desert after they are betrayed to the Harkonnen’s by the ruthless emperor of the galaxy. Fortunately the titular Dune is the most valuable planet in the universe, as it is home to giant worms that produce a mysterious “spice” that is necessary for interplanetary travel –and is therefore the most valuable commodity in the galaxy. Really, I could write a whole novel just summarizing the plot, suffice to say there’s a lot of adventures as Paul bonds with the dessert people, and inevitably must not only defeat the Harkonnen’s, but overthrow the galactic emperor as well.

Earthsea functions along a similar structure, except instead of a cosmic destiny, the hero Ged (Shawn Ashmore) leaves his home to learn under the legendary wizard Ogion (Danny Glover), and later Roke, a school for wizards. While the original novel (A Wizard of Earthsea), follows his life somewhat episodically, and culminates in a long trek across the island archipelago that makes up “the Earthsea”, the miniseries instead ignores the episodic narrative (somewhat ironically) and makes up its own generic adventure narrative featuring an evil tyrant (Sebastian Roche), a priestess, Tenar (Kristin Kreuk) –who bares almost no similarity to the priestess of the same name from the second book in the series (The Tombs of Atuan)- and a sidekick (Chris Gauthier), who was barely in the original books.

So, what are the shows really about? The genius of Dune, is that it is arguably about everything while still telling an exciting science fiction adventure story. Writer-director John Harrison’s adaptation is fairly faithful, and does a fairly decent job covering at least the main issues of political power and religion that the original novel raised. While the fact that the white Paul becomes the messiah to a desert people is in some sense an unfortunate case of the White-savior trope, the story is canny enough to show this fanatical faith as being just as problematic as the ruthlessly capitalistic empire that the Spice trade has helped create.

Legend of Earthsea meanwhile, seems to be about how best a smart nuanced work of prose can be jammed into a painfully generic adventure story. I don’t kid. Le Guin’s original novel (and series in general) is a much more thoughtful look at a world of magic. While it contains villains and monsters it is also as much about balance with nature (and oneself) than it is about adventures. The first novel follows Ged on a journey of self-discovery as he is pursued by a demon he unleashed due to his own hubris. The miniseries takes this plot thread as a side-story, and then adds in the aforementioned stock villain, and an utterly clichéd love-story.

Acting in Dune: William Hurt is top-billed as Duke Atreides, and while he is pretty good, he functions more as the “and…” actor in movies, in that he is not really the star. Alec Newman is suitably intense as the heroic Paul, and Saskia Reeves as his mother is also suitably enigmatic. Really though, the most memorable performance is that of veteran actor Ian McNeice as the villainous scenery chewing Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

Acting in Earthsea: Is not good. In all fairness, Shawn Ashmore does his best with the shoddily written adaptation, but Kristin Kreuk has never been a compelling actress. Isabella Rossellini verges on self-parody as a shrill villain –really the only actor that comes out relatively unscathed is Danny Glover. The miniseries is notable for perhaps the biggest disparity in acting I’ve ever seen: Ged’s father (a bit player) arguing with Danny Glover’s wizard about letting Ged go off to train with him near the start of the series. Glover’s understated performance makes the poor man’s acting attempt all the more laughable.

Writing in Dune: John Harrison’s adaptation is actually quite faithful, I’m tempted to say this is probably about as close as you can get to the text, but this is probably colored by the fact that the previous attempt to adapt the novel (David Lynch’s blockbuster 1984 version) was basically incomprehensible at 137 minutes long. With an extra two and a half hours of run-time, the mini-series is able to at least give a decent survey of the novel. While Harrison has some trouble adapting the internal monologues of the book (resulting in some clunky dialogue at times), overall the story is clearly told and involving.

Writing in Earthsea: Of course the opposite approach would be to take bits and pieces from the source material and use it to craft whatever random story you want to tell. Inexplicably this “adaptation” was written by John Gavin, who is probably best known for the Emmy nominated adaptation of The Mists of Avalon. I want to make it clear that I don’t think this adaptation is bad because of how unfaithful it is to the source material –but because it’s just bad. Maybe he was having an off week. The story is literally the search for some magical McGuffin that will stop the warlord from unleashing an army of demons. What’s so offensive here is if they just wanted a generic fantasy adventure why even pretend to adapt a classic?

Production in Dune: Dune had a pretty big budget for television, but it is still a television production –circa 2000. Suffice to say that the special effects –especially the CGI for the sand-worms, has become fairly dated. But the overall strength of the production -particularly a dynamic use of bright colors from three-time Academy Award winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro- keeps the story engaging, even when the effects falter. Graeme Revell’s operatic score was good enough to be released as a record, and the series inevitably won the Emmy for best Cinematography and Visual Effects.

Production in Earthsea: A seemingly much cheaper production, Earthsea’s CGI magic effects are somehow worse than Dune’s effects work, four years after the fact! Instead of the dynamism of Dune, Earthsea seems to be directed similarly to a television show, with straightforward compositions and sparsely furnished sets. I really don’t have anything nice to say, anything that isn’t outright bad, is just mediocre in design and execution.

Overall: I guess I didn’t realize until actually getting into some of the details, but these two series represent polar opposites in terms of adaptation –and not just because one is high fantasy, and one is space opera. Dune is a faithful adaptation of the source material, where a crew of professionals worked hard to make a television production look as cinematic and exciting as possible. Legend of Earthsea takes the basic outline of the source material, tosses out everything but the names to craft its own cliché ridden adventure, and is filmed in a dull cheap-looking manner. Also, I mentioned that the source material of Dune is somewhat problematic in the way it presents a “White Savior” rising to lead the dark-skinned desert peoples, but Earthsea takes this a step farther. All of the characters and denizens of the Earthsea realm are portrayed as varying shades of black, whereas the mini-series completely white-washes the cast, so that Danny Glover has now become both the “token black”, and the “wise-old black man” in one fell swoop.

Winner: Still I give it to Earthsea. No, just kidding. Dune, for as much as its effects have aged (including a cheesy-looking decapitated head near the end) is still a beautiful and exciting adventure. Can there be a better even more faithful Dune adaptation? Probably. But until then, the television miniseries is a solid work. Earthsea meanwhile, is pretty much the poster child for how not to adapt something. It’s odd, considering the success that SyFy had with its earlier (faithful) Dune adaptations that they apparently thought audiences wouldn’t go for a similarly challenging work in Earthsea. Still, if Earthsea has one good trait, it’s that it is a miniseries with a definitive ending… which is not always how SyFy operates.

Next Week: I’ll get into this a bit, with two other miniseries, these one’s specifically designed to launch on-going television series –both unsuccessful. The intriguing original miniseries The Lost Room, and the laughably horrible adaptation of the 1930’s comic book character, The Phantom (not to give away who the winner and loser are before the column even is written).

“Dragonfly Study: 36″ – Sun & Petrichor – by Geneva Lerwick

36

Dragonfly Study: 36. By Geneva Lerwick. This is the 36th photo in a Dragonfly Study taken at Prairiewood Farms in Minnesota. All pictures will be of different dragonflies in their natural environment along the Long Prairie River Valley. This is the 36th picture in a 57 image series from Geneva Lerwick. Click here to see the first Dragonfly picture from this study. 

“Who” – Poetry – by Nicholas Gardner

Who made it home.
Who was not free,
but paid liberally for walls,
a door,
a bathtub filled with electrical instruments.

Who held it together.
Who had gimmicks of opportunity,
the gadgets of freetime,
a sink,
an oven filled with empty eyes.

Who had a job.
Who drank beer with the boss
and spoke liberally of marijuana,
offices,
a garage filled with carbon monoxide.

Who lived.
Who was alone,
and thought frequently of sex,
A tv,
an internet filled with porno.

Who drove.
at top speed,
eyes closed at night,
no light,
immortal until morning.


Nicholas Gardner is from a small town in Ohio. He has spent much of his life scraping by in the inner-cities of America, and enjoys writing about crime and the homeless, the displaced in the world and what makes them carry on. He is currently at work on a novel about the predicaments of the underemployed.

Why We Like the “Free” in “Free Market” – Elitism for All – by Ozgur K. Sahin

I generally stay out of partisan political debates, because there’s far too much hypocrisy and an attitude of “only look at what we’re doing right and what the other guys are doing wrong.”  But one thing that I run into time and time again is this notion of “Free Market” capitalism.  Whether people are for it or against it, I find it laughable that anyone claims there even IS such a thing in existence.  What is more laughable is the notion that the people who claim to support the idea are actually doing so.

Having read the latest sneaky political trick relating to how Tesla Motors has basically been locked out of selling cars in yet another state (Michigan this time) unless they start creating car dealerships (because why?), I am reminded yet again that competition is not something that selfish people really want, because it makes business feel like work.  If the competitors come up with some awesome innovation that threatens to reach customers without so many middle-men and thus reduce prices, of course the “free market capitalists” will talk about how this “inspires innovation” and usually spout off some platitudes about how “necessity is the mother of invention,” but all we really see being “invented” is all kinds of bogus reasons why the other guy’s invention should be disallowed.  Let’s face it, while invention is admirable, it is far easier and more cost effective to artificially shut down the creativity of others than it is to step up with our own innovations to keep pace with a changing market.

Now I have a couple basic issues with how economies work in the first place.

First of all, there’s the issue that currency doesn’t really reflect resources anymore.  For example, we have the technology, materials, knowledge, and interest in creating bases and colonies on the moon and Mars.  There would be people lined up for miles to participate.  So why doesn’t it happen if we have the resources?  Because we don’t have the money.  Such a project would bankrupt any five nations.  Tell me again how money represents resources.

Secondly, because economies largely work off of scarcity, profit margins, and keeping costs competitive, everything gets treated as incredibly finite.  You can’t have rich people if resources are easy for everyone to obtain, and if you’re going to have massively rich people, you have to have poor people.  And if you’re going to have rich countries (particularly big ones), you’re going to have an awful lot of poor countries to compensate.  And if a country (or individual) becomes rich during this process, you can damned well bet that they are going to pull out every dirty trick in the book to stay that way rather than risk becoming the poor ones just because everyone else starts to have better ideas.

Good luck tracking down the CEO that says “Our company had to go bankrupt, because the other guys just had better ideas, and we don’t believe in leveraging our resources to unbalance things in our own favor by lobbying for last-minute changes to the rules.  We would rather play fair than stay in business.”  And good luck finding the middle man (whether it is a car dealership or a publisher) who will vote in favor of businesses that bypass middle men.  No, Free Market isn’t something people really champion to the degree they say.  It is a lovely idea, but people only like the idea that they might benefit from it.  No one likes the part where it might bankrupt them.

Let’s face it: success is seductive.  And for those who have been surrounded with success, entitlement is a real danger.  When you are used to things working a certain way, you get used to it.  If that way is successful or easy, you may learn that you are entitled to things going your way.  As Ken Wilber put it, “You’re born on third base and spend your life convinced that you hit a triple.”  Entitlement comes from habit as much as from selfishness, but it is also true that the more you let habit dictate what you do, the more selfish you are.  Habit does not account for changes. Habit does not allow new ideas, new situations, and new status (better or worse).  Habit does not require you to pay attention or step outside of your own mind.  The very act of letting habit trump necessity is an act of selfishness.  This country is used to being rich.  Car dealerships are used to being relevant and profitable.  Middle men are used to feeling entitled to profiting off of the work of others much more than having it be related to a valuable service they provide.  Once people have some kind of wealth or status or respect, they feel entitled to keep it.  Many relationships fail in exactly that way.  “I got the girl, now my work is done.”  Promotions are the same way.  “This is my reward for having been a good employee, so now I can sit here and reap the rewards.”  Never mind the increased responsibility which is offset by the increased wage—the promotion itself, along with the wage, are regarded as rewards for past services, and any current expectations are shirked by such individuals.

There are of course many people who start out in the world of business as narcissists.  It begins in childhood anyway, and is deeply rooted long before careers are pursued.  If there is one thing that my research and experience on narcissism has shown, it is that they can’t tolerate competition, yet they are always competing.  To reference The Last Psychiatrist blog, “The narcissist is the main character in his own movie.  Not necessarily the best or the brightest character, but the main one.”  When I quote “his own movie,” I emphasize that he is not only the main character, but the director, writer, producer, and casting agent.  He chooses the actors, what they are allowed to say, what they are allowed to do, how they are allowed to do it, and how everything should look to the outside world.  His is the starring role, and you are not allowed to quit—that is not in the script.  You exist merely as supporting cast, and you are therefore by definition disallowed from competing with him.  Any real competition shows that he is not the star, that he doesn’t write your script, and that you have power independent from him to change the whole movie.  You show him that it’s not really all about him and what he wants.  Competition is disallowed because independence is disallowed, and he is entitled to your subservience.  Yet these people are always in competition, because reality doesn’t work that way, and the very act of trying to force it to be necessitates competing with everyone else to put them in their place (in the narcissist’s movie, not anyone else’s).

This narcissism and our catering to it as a culture can be seen in everything from “give-everyone-a-trophy-for-showing-up” children’s sports to academic grade inflation, general lowering of all standards, nonjudgmentalism, to, well, disallowing Tesla Motors from selling competitively in Michigan just because they had a really good idea that threatens the sense of entitlement that a lot of middle men have cultivated for several decades since they were mere middle boys.

So when you hear people talk about the “Free Market,” do they really like it because it’s “free of regulations,” or because it is “free of responsibility?”  Considering these are some of the first people to lobby for more regulations when their interests are threatened, I’d say it was the latter.  After all, the only consistency visible in the moral codes that narcissists purport to adhere to is the consistency with which these codes change to allow whatever it is that they feel entitled to have.

Video Game Review – “Super Smash Brothers: 3DS” – Nostalgic Gamer – by Nick Vukelich

smashbroscover

I am terrible at traditional fighting games, I enjoy playing them, I pick up the newest entries in popular series, but I routinely get my rear end handed to me if I even think about playing them online. The brawler oriented Smash Brothers games have always been a place for me to finally feel like I can hold my own. Does the series work well on a handheld system though? I was a boss with a GameCube controller, it took some remapping of buttons, and I am quickly becoming a boss on the 3DS. There is more than just some controls to talk about here though, so let’s get to it.

Nintendo is not known for having the most graphically powerful systems. When the 360 and PS3 were pushing boundaries, and trying to keep up with the ever changing landscape of PC graphics, Nintendo was taking over living rooms with the sheer number of Wii’s sold. The graphical capabilities of the 3DS are perfect for the content found on the system and Smash Brothers is no exception. Everything from the characters, to the levels themselves, are really quite crisp. Animations are smooth, and for the first time since I’ve purchased my 3DS I’ve played this game with the 3D on. The only real downside is the screen size. I don’t mind playing on a handheld, I put in the most time with PlayStation All Stars on my Vita, but some will undoubtedly find it a hindrance. Truly it all comes down to preference, it does look really great though.

The sound design is exactly as perfect as every other Smash Brothers game. Character specific noises are all spot on, and theme music is replicated perfectly. The 3DS system volume can get loud enough, but to really get absorbed you should throw on some headphones. Truthfully I don’t hear much of the music during the match, I’m focused on the action, and the music just gets pushed to the background. That’s one of the downfalls to playing this on a handheld, the extra attention required to keep up with what’s happening, with such a small screen. Nintendo doesn’t slouch when it comes to graphics or sound though. So neither of those aspects should really let you down, nor should you be surprised about the quality.

This is a game about throwing major characters into a ring and then doing your best to beat the snot out of everyone possible. So you’ll be hard pressed to find yourself any real story here. Sure you can do the mode where you end up fighting, either one or two, giant hands. Which is supposed to represent the player’s hands, or so I’m told, but there is absolutely no narrative to anything you’ll find here. Included are various modes you will recognize from the console version, including the home-run contest with the punching bag, and you will have plenty to keep you playing. There are always more challenges to unlock and hidden characters to drag out of the shadows. These hooks are what make the replay factor so high. I have a hard time putting it down when I sit down to play some, matches move pretty fast and I’m always thinking just one more fight, or just one more attempt at this challenge.

Don’t let the fact that this is a handheld specific version fool you. There is a generous amount of content to be found here for those new to the franchise and those who have been playing for many years. As much as I liked PlayStation All Stars I found the basic differences to really put me off. The percentage meter for damage found in Smash Brothers games is a necessity for games of this type. In fact everything about Smash Brothers is exactly how it should be. The controls for the handheld version could use a bit more customization, my hand naturally gravitates to where the d-pad is versus the thumb pad, but really that’s a small issue. If anything is going to get me to actually buy a WiiU it is the upcoming console release of Smash Brothers but, until I have the funds to do that, I am perfectly satisfied with the 3DS version. If you want to get your brawl on then look no further than Super Smash Brothers for Nintendo 3DS.

Developer: Nintendo

Graphics: 5/5
Sound: 5/5
Story: 2/5
Replay Factor: 5/5

“Dragonfly Study: 35″ – Sun & Petrichor – by Geneva Lerwick

35

Dragonfly Study: 35. By Geneva Lerwick. This is the 35th photo in a Dragonfly Study taken at Prairiewood Farms in Minnesota. All pictures will be of different dragonflies in their natural environment along the Long Prairie River Valley. This is the 35th picture in a 57 image series from Geneva Lerwick. Click here to see the first Dragonfly picture from this study. 

Fantasy/Horror – Chains: Link Three – “Wolves” – by Patrick W. Marsh

The two bounty hunters couldn’t really say anything as they watched the meaty pile of Ugaba fade away in a red steaming pile of enchanted meat. Vrendel was breathing hard, pushing plums of steam out into the biting air. His armor was so large and bulky it looked like a small city of metal pulsating on his back. His brown shield wasn’t shattered, but bent inwards like a smashed roll. He shook the plate trying to get it to pop back into place. Snow had started to petal about the air.

“We should get moving, Frigga’s just up the road,” Bow said.
“Just give me a second. I got smashed by a dead giant after all,” Vrendel said. He started walking and coughed up a blog of blood, which splattered cleverly on the ground.
“More than a second, I need a little more,” Vrendel said.
“You can only have a few. With the blood and meat, the wolves will be out,” Bow said.
“I’m not sure they’re going to want her leftovers,” Vrendel said. He shook his shoulders back and forth a little bit. The muscles in his chest were trying to separate his ribs with swelling. Even with Vrendel’s large form and abundance of metal armor, a hit from a giant normally kills another man. In previous combats with giants, trolls, and anything tall with heinous amounts of strength, Vrendel would dodge their swipes and attacks with sidesteps. He was light on his feet for a big guy, but he knew they didn’t have a chance against Ugaba unless they exposed the placement of charm.

Bow dissected the Black Ends. The forest looked less villainous and brambly. The trees had released their long held breath, and could now relax without a dead giant peering over their shadows. At the very end of her eyes, her killer gems, she could see the tangled wall surrounding Frigga. It wasn’t easy to see through the layers of wired woods, but sure enough through the sea of points there stood the walls of Frigga.

“They already have their Fimbul Walls up?” Bow said. She patted Vrendel’s huge shoulder as she walked up the path a little bit further. “How’d they know to have them up? That bitch of a crone in the castle never leaks her predictions. If they lost contact, how would they know about her?”

“Just guesses anyways, Bow. Besides, they might just be paranoid or extra ambitious,” Vrendel said. He finally started walking gingerly. He used the crown of his mace as the tip of a cane. He stretched his shoulders again and tried to pick up the pace. He knew Bow liked him, but not enough to fight off a horde of wolves if he was too slow.
“No Vren, no. No shitty little town this close to Jotunheim is ambitious. I was born in one of these frosty helholes. I made it out, but most people never get away from the business that makes them last so close to the giants. You got to have a certain type of city to make it happen. Frigga has the right type of ugly to survive.” Bow said. More flattened hairs of snow mixed with white-blocked sunlight. A few crows cackled nearby like feathery cracks of glass.

“You’ve got a lot of allusions in you today, Bow. You can’t fault a small town for making some ramparts to keep the wildlife out. You’re perceptive, and you came from a shit-hole. Maybe the dice just got rolled right for Frigga, and they’ve got a thinker there,” Vrendel said.

“Eh,” Bow said, taking point down the path.

They walked the scribbling white line of snow for another mile. They didn’t say anything. They didn’t breathe too hard. They didn’t want to draw any attention to themselves. Bow was on point so she could see anything trying to flank them in the Ends. Vrendel was the tail of the line, for the simple reason that if someone attacked, his armor and guile could probably postpone the intended fatality for at least one strike.

The Fimbul Wall of Frigga started to rise up like a tangle-wood wave on some white shore. The barrier was only meant to be constructed for the winter of all winters, but there had been no communication with the oracle and Frigga that they were entering the twilight of the gods. When Fimbul came, the wolves would sense their king Fenrir coming for Ragnarok, and in homage would enter into the very same phantom rage he did. Yellow and thatched roofs started to pop over the disheveled line of mortared and broken trees. They looked like misplaced mushrooms. Smoke was absent their stony chimneys. The Iron Citadel stood distant in the whiteness of the sky, like a shy child at a birthday party. You could only make out its metal-sharp forehead amongst the flurries.

“Almost there, huh? Felt like a long while,” Vrendel said.
A howl, high and sinister echoed on the white air. A wolf, but with something extra mixing the eeriness in its esophagus.
“Fuck, was it waiting for me to speak?” Vrendel said. He looked over his right shoulder and down the path. The road looked like an old tongue, working its way down a toothy and tangled jaw. There was a line of darkness at the end of it like a gullet. The distant wedge was full of eyes, savage and yellow, beaming back at the two hunters.
“The forest is gone, so is the path. They filled in the spaces between the trees,” Bow said. She pulled Blood Thunder out of her fur and jammed it into her right shoulder. “I’ve never known that many wolves to be in one spot before.”

At first it looked like the Black Ends had meshed together into a fur-bump wall. The closer you looked at the wedge of panting wolves, the more you could sort out drooling teeth, steaming nostrils, and worn paws. There were hundreds of wolves, all working together. A pack over pack unification for the end of the world.
“Help me find the alpha, it’s got to be the one that howled,” she said.
Vrendel’s mace was out and his shield was ready. They were about half a mile out of Frigga, but the wolves were much closer to them. In a dead sprint towards the city, they’d assuredly get caught in the open. Vrendel’s eyes bounced along the line of snarling wolves. It took a few moments for their hisses to reach the two hunter’s ears, but once they did they ate up all the noise like a visceral orchestra.
“Got it,” Bow said, aiming the crossbow. At the center of the line, a step ahead of the snarling wolves, a giant grey male stood like a growling mountain. His eyes were a perfect red, an alpha charmed by Ragnarok.
“Good, look at that, he’s a big one. Pretty soon we won’t be able to travel anywhere without watching for wolves,” Vrendel said.

Bow released the arrow down the path. It bounced up and down on the air above the path, then curved into the black ends. Vrendel squinted as the feather-lined arrow broke through the trees and into limitless pack. It hit the alpha in its barrel-like chest, dropping into the thick fur like a toy dart.
“Got the ugly. Without the pack leader they’ll need a moment. Let’s run,” Bow said. She was about to turn around, but the red eyes of the alpha kept her staring. The giant body of the grey wolf kept standing, a jawed statue forged to the ground. Something shadowy, stretched, and shapeless pulled itself out of the wolf’s broad shoulders. It struggled for a second like trapped smoke. Then, it hit the air in a billowing stream. The red eyes left the alpha like withered candle light, and its body collapsed to the ground. The shade then wrenched backwards in a fluidic spiral, and hopped into the sea of wolves. Almost immediately, another wolf of the same color and marks parted from the ranks.

“I thought you hit it!” Vrendel said. He turned and chugged down the path towards the distant city and past the awestruck Bow.
“I did, shouldn’t be alive. Something came out of it and jumped someplace else,” Bow said. She followed Vrendel in a clumpy sprint. Vrendel was pained and limping, but he had to run full speed to survive.

Howls and snarls bit about the air as the two hunters ran. If you were watching from the sky like a raven’s eye, you’d be watching two burdened dots charging down a white line, with a sea of rolling backs and tails at their heels. Vrendel and Bow managed to close the gap between themselves and Frigga relatively quick. Both hunters could barely breath, and the bursts of vapor from their dried lips would trail behind there sprints. Neither of them could look back. Neither of them could really focus on the city in front of them. Both of them could only wait for a particularly fast wolf to snap into their tendons along the back of their legs, and then falling down to be swarmed over by the feral tide.

Lungs felt inadequate. Legs weren’t really moving. And the white path beneath their feet seemed to never end, along with the lines of broken black trees. The tangled Fimbul Wall popped up in front of them like a halo of twisted brick, rock, mortar, and wood. Behind the thirty foot wall the city reared up like friendly giants. The Iron Citadel looked like a metal square of a bookmark amongst a sea of books. On the rectangular roof of the building, a person was stand on its edge starting down at them. Bow’s eyes could tell it was a man beneath a red cloak, but his back and chest looked oblong and peculiar, like something extra was stuffed there. Bow couldn’t see his face beneath the tattered hood, but there were teeth hanging over the cloth’s edge.

They looked like stretched human teeth.

Something sharped nipped at the heels of Vrendel’s boots. He could tell it was the charging fangs of a wolf. He closed his eyes, and waited for the next snap to take him down.

The figure waved an obscenely long hand with giant fingers into the white air. The bouncing earth underneath the wolf’s feet seemed to stutter and stop, like a broken motor. Vrendel collapsed to the ground next to Bow, who had turned to watch the wolves. The entire legion of muzzles and teeth had stopped. Now, only their glowing eyes moved between the flaking snow.

Something had stopped. Something made them afraid to wrench apart the two hunters at the foot of the Fimbul Wall. Bow searched quickly for the figure again, but the crimson cloak was gone from the rooftop.

“What was that?” she said.

Nonfiction/Memoir – Faceplant 33 – “Online Windows Class” – by Jacob Steinbauer

(Note: Please skip this installment of Faceplant if you prefer NOT to be bored, upset, or some combination therein.)

I knew exactly what would happen, so why am I upset? Am I upset? Yes. I become upset whenever I am evaluated, judged—whenever someone tells me: you have trouble retaining information.

I break from childhood misadventures to talk about the instructor of an online course at MCTC that I am taking this fall: Microsoft Operating Systems. I will now abuse my blog power of potentially limitless audience to deliver my woes.

The trouble began immediately, before that, in fact. I bought a book online for the class I wanted to take and found out at registration that the MS Operating Systems class was a prereq, of which all classes were currently full. Okay. Cancel book order. I ordered a book for that class in advance and slipped into a spot on the first day when some chud (you have seen C.H.U.D., right?) didn’t show up. Good.

The immediate problem was that you need an MS operating system, in this case OS 7 (which is very similar to 8 if you scratch the touch screen navigation features) for the class, and also MS Office (because this is the only acceptable program for file submission online). The ITEC provides these to its students.

But not from the same place. Two separate programs offer differing software availability, and, although it’s a sweet deal to get a buttload of free software, not having MS Office because I couldn’t find it on the other site set me back a pinch.

I have a MacBook Pro. I had to install OS 7 through Bootcamp, then install all the device drivers. And then you have install like 17 hours of updates and reboots—which with Bootcamp means you have to sit there to hold the [option] key lest it boot Mac OS 10 on accident—because the free OS version they give you is the one from like 2008. With Mac having stupid Pages (the newest version NOT being backwards compatible, seriously, when my iMac’s graphics card died, I. . .another story, another time. . .), I wanted to install Acrobat Reader in order to be able to open syllabus files and such on Windows. Naturally, the Acrobat look-alike that paid Google—and Google certainly accepted the money—to be first on the list for the “free Adobe Acrobat Reader download” search is a company that may or may not be based out of Costa Rica with a security rating of below 30%. The 30% must be paid actors and family. After running the software, nothing happened—that I could see. Digital viruses and electronic worms started disseminating like oxygen through the bloody zeros and ones of my newly bootcamped hard disk.

I wiped it. Started from scratch.

Even with Windows 7, the keyboard isn’t the same (no Windows key, duh), and my trackpad won’t right click. I have to use both USB ports to plug in a Windows keyboard and a mouse. Some assignments require a flash drive for file modification, file system analysis, et cetera. . . Crap. I have to take turns unplugging the keyboard (needed for required screen shots) and the mouse (needed to right click to navigate the tutorials).

THIS ALONE WAS SO ANNOYING I WANTED TO DROP THE CLASS.

(Note two: I find all caps despicable.)

I have since purchased a wireless mouse.

Now, the text book instructions for the class assignments say specifically to use MS Word or Word Pad. I used Word Pad before I got Office, butthe school’s D2L online file submission system drops any images in Word Pad when they upload, so none of my screen shots came through. I explained my technical problems to the instructor in the file submission notes. None of the screen shots for any of the assignments went through, but these were the instructions to a special project:

1.screen printing (1)

His response was one line: “Go back to the assignment and read the large print at the top of the page.”

Wow. Letter award for super condescension. Irony in asking me to read when doing that was exactly what he should have been doing?

That’s 730 words of how this class started. I took the midterm last week. I didn’t really study. I have been running defragmenters and disk cleanups since the Windows XP days. I know the basic difference between NTFS and FAT file systems. Also, I don’t care. My work will reimburse me so long as I 1). Get a C or better; and 2). Retain my spotless record of avoiding disciplinary write-ups. I assumed I would get a C or better either way.

I went in to take the test. We had a start window between 2 and 5 p.m.Closed book. Fine. Closed Windows 7. What? We were not allowed to use Windows to use or lookup answers while taking the test. Apparently we are training to impress friends at bars, and not for career application. When else would I have a Windows 7 question when I don’t even have a usable copy of the program available? But whatever, fine.

Once I load up the test, I quickly realize that this experience is supposed to double as a conference. I know this because the instructor talks to each student as they try to leave about their grades, progress, and incomplete assignments. A good thing, but terribly distracting, especially for a writer who instinctively eavesdrops in order to mimic character behaviors and dialogue.

The instructor first detains a woman who says she is already late picking up her child at daycare. This will only take a minute, he tells her. Next, he tells a student he has incomplete assignments. Student says, I told you I didn’t have them because I have two jobs and that week the one in Burnsville, blah, blah, blah. He offers excuses, and the instructor won’t budge. Until, finally, Instructor says, Well, you would have needed to clear that with me before the assignment’s deadline. I did, Student says—that was what he was trying to tell him. When? In your office, with you, face-to-face. You don’t remember that? Like three weeks ago. No, Instructor says, but I have 160 students. . . .

Clearly, the instructor forgot a face-to-face meeting with a student. He needs fewer students if that is going to be his excuse for that. He didn’t even apologize, but they work it out.

I finished the test, and the instructor came in from a cell phone call for my meeting. He clicks some buttons.

—Your grade dropped from an A to B with the midterm. You got a C on it. That tells me that you are very resourceful on the computer but that you don’t retain information well.

You know, these six chapters had over 160 key terms. I forgot a few despite face-to-book interaction.

If you could give me some pointers on what to study. . .he suggested I look at the subjects in the table of contents to just make sure I feelcomfortable with everything. Table of contents, huh? Brilliant recommendation. If only he had been condescending enough to explain what a table of contents is.

Anyway, even the TOC wouldn’t tell what version of TMP chip BitLocker uses now (I did know it used TMP chipsets on the motherboard, and felt comfortable with that). This coming from the guy who won’t give you the answers to quizzes (or the midterm) unless you make a special trip downtown and meet with him. Yes, that’s right. I didn’t even know what I needed to work on going into the midterm, what points I missed. I could have; that’s on me for not making a trip. I mistakenly thought the idea behind online classes was convenience. Also, the chapter six assignments hadn’t been graded yet, so, even if answers were available for study I wouldn’t have had at least some of them.

So what did I actually say to the instructor? Nothing. I nodded and left peaceably. He didn’t need to hear my excuses, which I know he would have countered with his excuses—I have 160 students, et cetera. . . .neither of us needed that. It wasn’t going to change how I studied (or didn’t) for the final or how he ran his classes.

I expected the grade; I got it. Now all this fussing. I shouldn’t care. I do. At least I got out of the midterm fast enough to reuse my bus transfer.

Success.

“Pre-Dawn” – Family Haunts – by PMF Johnson

As though some painter flipped the panels
of his diptych, reversing to confuse
for his own amusement, yesterday
while passing this place I saw
the kitchen left, the dining room right.
Today that’s not true.
What else melts into its opposite
while we take in the sort
of golden view from the dark outside
that suffuses us with that same
pleasant resonance commercial artists
aim for to jack up sales?
Nothing seems terribly archetypal:
great, stately trees, yes, but
crowded by wires; a mysterious hedge
nestles a mundane beach ball;
interesting dormers and gables
have an antenna on top.
Anyway, bus riders have only
a momentary taste for any such diversion
before their gaze slips to the next scene,
or to some inward landscape.

Suspended from its rickety sky-side scaffolding,
an imaginary creature rakes out the morning,
dragging blue paint in successively
fading shades across the star-ground.
This will be a perfect day for someone,
humming as she stirs her get-up cup of coffee,
ignoring the squeezed-empty tubes
of night’s dark hues,
jarring sorrows tossed untidily
into a corner where even
the sharpest colors tried –
the mustard-yellow of the children’s fear
of today’s test of long division, say –
remain invisible to the immaterial outside.

Fiction/Fantasy – “Dragon Earth: Mythology” – Part 31 – by Ken Olson

Luchiphor looked up at the belly of the Blue-Green as it thrashed above him, firing gouts of acidic flame in every direction. It was confused, angry, and in pain. He’d hurt it.  Good. However there was still the issue of his own free-fall.

He twisted in the air. As he thought, the ground was too far from him to attempt the Green Mist. Even if he could produce one from this heights, hitting it would be just as effective as hitting the ground itself. A whirlwind might help. He’d have to get a little closer and hope he had the time to cast the spell. And then there was the problem of never having been able to conjure a whirlwind larger than a three feet high, anyway. Elemental Manipulation had never been his strength.

All was not lost, though. He still had one trick up his sleeve.

“Heeeelllllppppp!!!!”

That ought to do it.

Several people looked up and pointed at his falling form.

Well at least they’d be able to tell who had died trying to save them.

The ground was coming up fast, and he had no intention of hitting it with anything less than his usual flair. He closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and spread his arms and legs, a mortal “X” falling to his doom. He only hoped he wouldn’t feel it.

And then he hit.  Too soon to be the ground and with very little force. As a matter of fact he felt he was in more danger of sliding than he was of dying. Instinctively, he found a pair of handholds, recognizing the feel of them under his fingers.

“Daisy!” he cried, opening his eyes.

The dragon looked back at him and snorted. Luchiphor felt sure she was smiling.  Luchiphor smiled back.

“I’m going to feed you a whole cow for this,” he said.  Daisy roared her approval.

The Blue-Green roared as well, but in pain and anger, its cries echoed by the other Outland dragons.  Luchiphor glanced back over his shoulder.  The shard of the Seeing Glass in the creature’s eye was glowing purple and was getting brighter.  Whatever Yawoddin was doing was having, if not the desire effect, at least a pretty painful one.

What, however, was it doing to Yawoddin.

“To my brother,” he told Daisy, and placed a hand upon her head to guide her.  In a moment, she was landing near the Wizard’s tent, lowering her head to allow Luchiphor to slide off safely.  He hit the ground, his feet making a satisfying whump on the hard earth.  Much better than the horrendous crack he might have heard a few moments ago.  That would have been—

He stopped.  He’d heard his feet hit the ground.  He should not have heard anything over the noise the Outland Dragons were making.  And he would not have, if the beasts were still making their infernal noises.  They were not.  They were simply hovering in the air, their heads raised as if to hear some silent command.  Only their wings moved to keep them aloft, each great flap creating a breeze that tousled his hair.

Otherwise, there was no noise whatsoever.  All combatants–man, monster, and beast—had turned their gaze skyward and were simply watching the Outland Dragons in awed silence.  And why not?  A little more than a minute ago they had all been poised on the edge of destruction and now there was a reprieve.  But was it the calm before the storm or something else?

Luchiphor banked on something else, said “something else” being his brother.

“Yawoddin,” Luchiphor breathed, and smiled.  “Yawoddin, you’re doing it.”

And then the Outland Dragons fell to the earth, shaking the ground one last time with their very size, and lay still.

“I Closed My Eyes” – I Wandered and Listened – by Melinda Giordano

I slept in the woods
Comforted and encamped
Surrounded by the rooted sentries
That stood close in scarlet attendance
As I dreamt at their feet

I woke in the dawn
The air dripping like moss
The color of foam, of salt and pearl
Rising from the oceans below ground
As I swam in the muted light

I heard the pointed sounds
Sharp as a lady’s heel
A volta full of grace and fear
That dug into the pastel scented earth
As I listened to their dancing

I rode through the morning
On a mount muscled in fog
Its antlers branched as if the sentries
Had merged with the deer harnessed by mist
As I closed my eyes once more

“Dragonfly Study: 34″ – Sun & Petrichor – by Geneva Lerwick

34

Dragonfly Study: 34. By Geneva Lerwick. This is the 34th photo in a Dragonfly Study taken at Prairiewood Farms in Minnesota. All pictures will be of different dragonflies in their natural environment along the Long Prairie River Valley. This is the 34th picture in a 57 image series from Geneva Lerwick. Click here to see the first Dragonfly picture from this study.