Friday, December 07, 2012

Guys, we've got to start blogging more.

In part of the AV Club's favorite-things-of-2012 survey, David Cross responds to "What's the best TV show you watched in 2012?" by pointing out that he doesn't watch TV or own a TV, then names two TV shows that he likes, and I don't think it was a joke.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

"We might unwittingly create the first sentient robots."

"Space is the domain of robots. NASA is about to land the semi-autonomous robot Curiosity on Mars within the next few days, where it joins its two less-sophisticated robot brethren, Spirit and Opportunity. There's a good reason why these rovers are the first Earthlings first to set foot — or rather, tire treads — on Mars.

"Even the simplest robot can survive in space better than a human can. As we program more and more of our smart machines to explore space, we might discover a lot more than microbial life in the waters of Europa. Instead, says celebrated science historian Richard Rhodes (author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb), we might unwittingly create the first sentient robots."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hawking on time travel

It really is that simple. If we want to travel into the future, we just need to go fast. Really fast. And I think the only way we're ever likely to do that is by going into space. The fastest manned vehicle in history was Apollo 10. It reached 25,000mph. But to travel in time we'll have to go more than 2,000 times faster. And to do that we'd need a much bigger ship, a truly enormous machine. The ship would have to be big enough to carry a huge amount of fuel, enough to accelerate it to nearly the speed of light. Getting to just beneath the cosmic speed limit would require six whole years at full power. 

The initial acceleration would be gentle because the ship would be so big and heavy. But gradually it would pick up speed and soon would be covering massive distances. In one week it would have reached the outer planets. After two years it would reach half-light speed and be far outside our solar system. Two years later it would be travelling at 90 per cent of the speed of light. Around 30 trillion miles away from Earth, and four years after launch, the ship would begin to travel in time. For every hour of time on the ship, two would pass on Earth. A similar situation to the spaceship that orbited the massive black hole. 

After another two years of full thrust the ship would reach its top speed, 99 per cent of the speed of light. At this speed, a single day on board is a whole year of Earth time. Our ship would be truly flying into the future. 

The slowing of time has another benefit. It means we could, in theory, travel extraordinary distances within one lifetime. A trip to the edge of the galaxy would take just 80 years. But the real wonder of our journey is that it reveals just how strange the universe is. It's a universe where time runs at different rates in different places. Where tiny wormholes exist all around us. And where, ultimately, we might use our understanding of physics to become true voyagers through the fourth dimension. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

One About Ma

An important thing to keep in mind: not a one of us has the complete picture. We all see a small piece of who she is. She is a grandmother to me (always will be), she is a mother, a great-grandmother, a neighbor, a friend. She is also a sister. She is a wife and a daughter, too.

She has been unreasonably kind and forgiving – she introduced me to the reality of absolute, unconditional love and support – and she is sometimes easily and unnecessarily mean. She hangs up the phone when she is done speaking and does not say goodbye. She says she is going outside for a smoke, and then takes the opportunity to slip away unnoticed. She burns photographs and artifacts you would rather her keep, and then sometimes, weeks or years later, wonders where they’ve got to.

She hides money for you under the Scarlett O’Hara statue in her living room. She sits in the kitchen with you for as long as you want to, and she answers every question you are brave enough to ask.

I once asked her about the first time she came to Leslie Fry’s farm. What it was like and how it was different. She said she had one stipulation for moving from Covington, Kentucky – the city – out to Weaver Road, Ohio – very much the country – and it was that Pa have a bathroom built onto the side of his house, with running water, a toilet, a bath. She was bringing herself and two teenage boys, don’t forget, who were used to the finer things in life, like indoor plumbing. He said okay.

She remembered coming out to Weaver Road on a day she and Pa had chosen to go shopping for a bathtub and a sink and toilet. When she pulled into the driveway she parked alongside a brand new, shiny red combine, and she knew they would not be going shopping for a bathtub that day. She married him anyway.

I remember the mirror shed used to put her makeup on. A magnification mirror that made my face look larger than it was. I could see my pores, I could see myself closer than I really was. I imagine that’s how she saw me all the time. That she knew me for more than I was.

She likes angels. At one point, she filled her house with them. The first Christmas present I remember getting her as an adult, as someone with a job and with money to spend, was a silly poster in a simple frame. It was a poster of a painting of an angel. I felt embarrassed to be giving it to her really, because it wasn’t like anything that she had. It was a poster. I had posters in my dumpy college apartment, my grandmother did not have posters in her home.

I gave it to her anyway. She hung it up over her bed in her bedroom.

I remember taking long, long drives out to her mother’s house. I feel like we ate fried chicken there, but I might be getting my dim memories of great-grandparents mixed up. There were cousins and aunts and uncles there I’d never met before, who I was told were part of my family. I was very shy as a kid, just like I’m very shy as an adult, and I don’t remember talking to any of these cousins and aunts and uncles. But I remember staying the night at Grandma Cox’s, and sleeping next to my brother David, and I remember him telling me a story to send me off to sleep. He told me the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it, but it’s the only time that I can remember, now, specifically, of hearing it. And Dave, whether you remember that or not, I want you to know that I do, and that I will forever.

David tried to take Ma on an Alaskan cruise once. I think she debated it for a while, and then she decided not to go. I imagine the reasons why are many and unknowable for anyone but her, but when I asked her she told me two things. She doesn’t like to go somewhere so far away that she can’t make it back to her own bed at night, and she doesn’t want to spend money on something she can’t hold and see afterward. The experience is not good enough for her. Pictures aren’t either. And I don’t agree with that point of view, but it is her point of view, and I think I appreciated her sharing with me her why-not. But secretly, I think she would have loved it.

She once told me not to expect any monetary inheritance, because she planned on spending all of her money on her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren while she was alive to see it spent. It made her happy. It made her very happy. And I might be tempted to point out that that is an experience she has bought, but such arguments of logic would do no good. The heart wants what it wants.

I lived down the road from Ma and Pa from the day I was born, and as you know, Ohio experiences all four seasons very deeply. Winter is cold, summer is hot. I shoveled her sidewalk in the snow sometimes, but still when I think of Ma and Pa as people and as a place, I think of summer. Watermelon – Pa put salt on his, and I thought that’s how everyone ate watermelon – I found out many years later that some humans are horrified when you do this. Ma in shorts and short-sleeved button-up plaid shirts. Ma on a bench-swing. Ma feeding her cats and feeding Zeke cheese sandwiches when she came home from work, which was after midnight. Pepsi in a can and Pa’s homemade ice cream, sitting on the sidewalk, in that concrete space between the house and the summer kitchen. Pa at the kitchen table, carving up a grapefruit with a knife. Is that even true? I don’t know, but I can see it. I can see it like I’m eight years old and always have been, and like I will never age.

Maybe I’m feeling sentimental, but when I think of her and him and them both, it will be summer for all time. It is always June when I think of Corlene.

If I can speak directly to Ma, for a moment:

You made it very clear that you love me and are proud of me, and what I want you to know is that I love you and I’m so proud of you, too. Of the choices you made that changed the course of your own life and our family forever, for the battles you fought for us, and the sacrifices you made to make our lives better. Everything anyone in this family ever does – it is because of the foundation you built on Weaver Road. I love this place and this farm. It made us.

If I spend the rest of my life turning that fact over and over in my mind, I will still never unravel it.

I can’t properly explain how large you are in my life, so I wrote this for you, and I am going to show it to you, and to everyone I know, and to everyone who will never meet you, I will tell them: you really missed something special. But you are in luck – because I’m going to tell you about Ma Fry.

Thursday, March 01, 2012


Every other day in Baltimore has been a spring. Then the cold returns, and me and Kate sing Christmas songs to each other. Today it's spring again, and it makes me think of Chicago. I can't remember if that's always been true.

It makes me think of recommitment and starting new projects. I like it when I'm not the only one. I got an email from Adrian last week saying we should make a new movie before we're old men in rocking chairs. Just a few days before that I'd been thinking about the kung-fu movie we made in high school, and how if I wanted to watch it again I'd need to buy a VCR. Do they make VCRs that connect to computers? I would put that kung-fu movie onto the youtubes in a heartbeat.

Starting new projects makes me think of finishing old ones. I'd wanted to finish the next draft of my book by Thanksgiving, then by Christmas, and then I started to wonder (again) if I'd ever finish it. Adam finished his and had it Lulued and everything. Our writing group is meeting to talk about it next Friday, so I started to plan on finishing my book by then, too. I only have 8 chapters left to revise, so that's pretty doable. In theory, right?

Comic books I've read recently and liked:
Prophet, being a continuation/bold new direction of a 90s Image comic that I never read.

Conan the Barbarian, being a continuation/bold new direction of the Dark Horse Conan comics that I've barely read.

Daredevil, being a continuation/bold new direction of the Marvel superhero that I never really liked.

Book-books I've read recently and liked:
The Lost City of Z, being an examination of 20th Century Amazonian explorations, and the missing bones resulting thereof.

Movies I've seen recently and liked:
Gosh, I dunno. The Descendents was pretty good. I bought The New World on blu-ray this weekend, and I want to watch it real bad like. I watched part one of the American Experience Clinton two-parter this morning while I was working, and it seemed pretty good. The dream of the 90s is alive in my living room, y'all.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Five Foundational Texts

My pal Adam has a novel in which the main character brings 5 books with him to college, the 5 tomes that have shaped his brain and his bones up to that point. It's an idea that has stuck with me since I first read it a few years ago, and since I've been rebuilding my library these days I've been thinking about what my Five Foundational Texts might have been...


Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Player's Handbook
by David "Zeb" Cook, 1989.

This was the rulebook for what still takes up a whole lot of my headspace, even when I'm not actively playing D&D. My brother played D&D, but I never did much more than watch him and his buddies play around the pool table from time to time. But when I was in high school I fell in with some of the kids in band who had a D&D group, and thereafter spent more weekends than not playing in my basement, or John Bennington's living room, or James Laird's dining room. It was partly the swords-and-sorcery, playing pretend part of D&D that made it attractive, but I think it was also the fact that it was a group activity. As a younger kid I mostly played one-on-one, but sitting around a table for Dungeons & Dragons brought about a kind of collaborative storytelling that I've never shaken the jones for. Reading over the handbook between games -- or during some stretches between gaming groups -- brought to mind all of the possibilities for Adventurers and Adventuring Parties, and I definitely imagined and rolled up more characters than I ever put into play. In reasons I still don't entirely understand, I think playing D&D is what encouraged me to move from Ohio to Chicago. Something about "let's see what's over that next rise..."


Marvel Saga
by Peter Sanderson & the Marvel Bullpen, 1985-87.

I could just say "Marvel Comics from the 1980s, specifically whatever my brother Dave had in his footlocker from 1994-1988," but if I had to pare it down to a volume that can exist on a bookshelf it would be this. This one reminds me of play, too -- it was certainly the precursor to the imagined comic books I wrote scripts & summaries for in middle school and high school, and combined with Marvel Universe, it gave me an encyclopedic mythology I could explore, meditate on, interpret, and -- once the idea of the written by credit had sunk in -- contribute to. It was essentially a retelling of the events of the Marvel Universe, in order, beginning with the Celestials arrival on Earth "roughly one million years ago" and their creation of the Eternals and the Deviants, and ending with the Fantastic Four's battle with Galactus from Fantastic Four #s 48-50. The series used blocks of text mixed with original art from vintage Marvel Comics as well as new art used to fill in some of the gaps. Each issue would have some sort of focus -- "See today's X-Factor in their first battle, when they were the original X-Men!" -- but it generally covered the crannies and side stories of the Marvel Universe from Spider-Man to Daredevil to Alpha Flight, making connections that I'd glimpsed in editorial notes of the normal comics I read, but now explained in a way that revealed just how big and interconnected those stories were.


The Greek Myths
Translated/Retold by Robert Graves, 1955.

Speaking of mythologies... there was a hardcover copy of Ancient Greek myths in the Clermont Northeastern Intermediate School Library that I used to check out and re-read over and over again. I don't know now if it was the Robert Graves version -- I kind of doubt it -- but I don't remember much about the specific edition except it was a hardcover, it was gray, it was lacking a dustjacket, and "Greek Myths" was printed in gold on the spine. I'm sure the subject matter fed something similar to the Marvel Comics I read over and over again, but I also think it was an important step toward, you know, reading actual words on paper, understanding and enjoying how they fit together, resonating in a way that comic book word balloons don't. I'm not talking smack about comics as much as I'm saying -- look, they ain't poetry. I remember the version of the Greek Myths I read was simple and sparse in a way that pushed me to fill in the details. The less they told, the more I saw. I checked that book out ever other week, I think. I think about those guys the same way I think about Pete Laub and Jimmy Daniel. My relationships with Zeus and Heracles and Apollo were just as formative as with the guys with whom I pretended to be Lost Boys (the vampires, not the boy runaways).


by William Shakespeare, 1605-ish.

Spectral daggers, witches three, medieval battles -- if I've made anything clear to you in our time together, it is that these things are right up my alley. And if you wanna talk about expanding one's understanding of language's potential -- I mean, "By the pricking of my thumbs/Something wicked this way comes/Open, locks, whoever knocks!" is certainly enough to blow open the brain of a seventeen-year-old me.

And it will always have a place in my heart for being the play that Charlie Hartman, Josh Lawson and I reenacted with sock puppets and Castle Grayskull for our 12th grade English class.


The Illuminatus! Trilogy
by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson, 1975/1984.

Writing this post, I've been surprised at how hard it's been to put an honest-to-gosh novel on here. I remember that for a big chunk of junior high/high school, my answer to What's your favorite book? was The DragonLance Chronicles: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, which was the first book I loved so much that I read it nonstop for three days over one summer break. But looking back, it doesn't stick with me much more than watching lots of GI Joe. It was a fun book, but it didn't change anything about how my brain worked.

Illuminatus!, on the other hand -- it was fun, dirty, weird, and by far the longest book I'd ever read at that point. It also dovetailed nicely with my musical obsession with the KLF/JAMs/Justified Ancients of Mu Mu by sharing some of the same conspiracy theory-fueled mythology. It was the book I carried in my backpack so much that it started to fall apart, and it was the book I most wanted other people to catch me reading. I thought about fnords forever after, I thought about authorial pranks and unreliable narrators, I thought about a plot that comments on itself as you're reading it and dares you to keep up. I didn't necessarily understand all of it then (or now), but I knew that I liked the feelings it made me feel.

I think it would be easier to pull together a list of Foundational Texts from my 20s, and maybe that's what I'll do next. I imagine that list speak more to how I write and what I write about now -- this list, as I look over it, speaks to how I think and what I think about now. Which is what foundational is supposed to mean, yeah?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I went running today.

For the second time since I've lived in Baltimore. For the first time, probably, since the summer.

I ran for: 41 minutes and 42 seconds. I traveled a distance of 2.92 miles. I burned 356 calories. My average pace was 14'15", but I'm not sure what that means. Per minute? That can't be right.

(I know these things because my robot phone told me so.)

(My robot phone also shows me a map of the route I ran, colored green where I ran the fastest and colored red where I stopped to walk.)

I never once stopped to lean against a lamp post or a tree.

(This is untrue. I stopped once to wait for a crosswalk sign, and I was kind of mad when it switched to walk before I was ready. That was my first break, and when I was stopped I had to swallow once to keep myself from throwing up. I stopped a second time to put my hand on a tree and lean over and breathe.)

I listened to a WTF podcast as I ran. It was the episode with Donald Glover. After I got home I remembered that the last time I ran it was the summer, and I'd listened to a WTF podcast with Dan Harmon. Donald Glover is Troy on Community and Dan Harmon is the creator of Community. I didn't do this on purpose, except that when I looked at the list of recent WTF guests Donald Glover was the only one who looked interesting who wasn't Russell Brand.

(I really like Russell Brand. Mostly from his talk show appearances, where he comes across as being very charming and funny. I also really liked Arthur. I went to see it by myself at the movies after one of the times Kari moved out of our house in Vermont. When (spoiler alert!) Hobson died, it made me cry. I re-watched Arthur on HBO one and a half times last week and when (spoiler alert!) Hobson died, I felt a gravity in my guts and I teared up a little bit.)

I went running once in Vermont when the snows were heavy. I ran on the bike trail and had to kick my knees up high and leap for the footprints of whoever went running before me. The footprints only went one direction, so on my way back I had to kick my knees up high and leap for my own footprints.

I bought new pants to run in that have a little zipper and pocket right over the butt where I can put a housekey. This removes a lot of stress from my run. I still have to carry my phone, because I haven't bought a new arm-strap-thing and I don't know where my old one has disappeared to. I didn't wear my glasses and once I thought there was a fashionable young lady walking my way as I was running and I thought I was going to impress her with my athleticism, but as we passed I realized it was actually a private school boy. I bet I impressed him with my casual friendliness.

I'd like to go out running for about the same period of time (or less), but cover 5 miles. I don't know the best routes to take around Hampden. Some streets in Baltimore don't make me feel nervous at all, and some do, and sometimes I feel both ways about the same streets at different times. Sometimes when I run down streets where I don't feel nervous about crime I feel nervous about people thinking I'm dumb to be running, or assuming I won't go running again after this run because my running clothes are new and my belly is not that of a regular runner's. But today I got mud on the legs of my running pants, and I'm not even going to wash them yet. So what do you think of that?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Emoticon, Emoticon, Emoticon

Chris Hunt is my uncle, and he wrote a book. It's called My Life with the Scorpion Kitten and it's about his life over the five-year period he spent with Mathias, a cat he adopted with his wife, my mom's sister, my aunt Tina.

Early in kitten-hood Mathias got a severe eye infection that cost him an eye, and left him blind in the eye he still had. He also had the feline leukemia virus, so I'll tell you straight up, dudes -- the book can carry the sadness at times. But from my personal perspective, what I found most interesting was the insight it offered into my family and some of the people in it.

The book covers the 5 years of Mathias's life, from 2003 to 2008. I lived in Chicago when it started and was just starting to wade back into the life of an undergrad. I started college right out of high school (CLASS OF 97 RULES), but after two years of bopping through the University of Cincinnati, I gradually dropped out of all of my classes. My last semester at UC had basically been a money pit, where my body knew I had dropped out (sleeping til 2pm or so) long before my brain had accepted it (obviously, blowing off my English Lit classes was simply the first the step toward changing my major to anthropology). But in 2003 I was attending classes at Columbia College Chicago as a Fiction Writing major. By the spring of 2008 I had earned my BA, left Chicago, and was wrapping up my MFA in Writing at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Which is to say -- it was an eventful time in my life and I probably wasn't paying the best attention to family goings-on in Ohio. So in a lot of ways reading Chris's book was like reading one of those novels that gives a parallel view to stories you think you know well.

My grandmother passed away on Christmas Eve of 2004, and the way Chris writes about that night is different from the way I remember it. Chris is probably right -- I'm just surprised that I'd filled in so many details so incorrectly. I remembered our entire family being at Chris & Tina's that night -- my folks, my brother's family, my mom's older brother John and all of his kids. Grandma Mathews had been sick for a long time, and she'd been moved from hospice to Chris and Tina's, and she passed away while we were all there in the house. It was a strange, significant, sad Christmas. But Chris writes that John and his kids weren't there at all, and that John only came after Grandma had passed. I think that's probably true, but in my memory I'd created an entirely different sequence of events. Without reading Chris's book, I never would have entertained the thought I was wrong.

Mathias, the Scorpion Kitten in question.

Chris's book has rippled quietly through the family, if it's even fair to say that much. I've been writing my novel for -- yikes dudes -- almost ten years now. I'm certainly near the end, but it's more than a little humbling for Chris's book to start off by saying that he's writing the first words in 2008, and for it to include a section in which he reads my novel-in-progress, and wondering when the end will come. All of which is to say, I've known for a while he was writing a memoir of his life with Mathias, but it was still a surprise when my mom called one day to say that it was available on Amazon. She sounded kind of excited, but not in a pleasing way. I think it's fair to say that my family doesn't always talk to each other easily about -- you know -- feelings. It's always been that way, and it's always felt uncomfortable (at best) or even like an act of great contrary will to talk to each other about things that we feel, or about things that someone else feels. Chris married into our family, but I get the feeling that this could be true of his family life too. So for him to write and publish a book that is almost entirely a journey through his inner life, examining what he feels and why, and how he feels about others, is, I think, causing some turmoil around the Jent/Mathews axis.
I don't think it's bad or wrong of him to do this. But my mom was nervous about the book, I think Aunt Tina is too. My writing about him writing about it is probably a cause for tense nerves too, but what I read in Chris's book is an attempt to have a conversation with his friends and family about things that are hard to talk about. The bulk of the book is about Mathias and the other cats Chris & Tina have lived with and cared for, but an undercurrent of it is their attempts -- or, Chris's wishes -- to have children. They never did, and in the book's afterword he simply states that "We also learned that we are unable to have children." I feel like that's what the book is really about -- much of it is concerned with the passage of time, with family and friends who have passed on. The cats Chris and Tina adopt are loved by them, but people live a lot longer than cats. They are born and live and pass on while people are still around. Children are meant to survive their parents, to carry on and to be part of a continuity of family and love. Cats are loved -- I have one of my own -- but they're not comparable to children or what children represent. They just can't be. When I asked my mom if she'd ever talked to Tina about their desire or ability to have kids, she said she'd never asked. She didn't think it was her business. 

And I guess that's kind of true? But the truth of that statement is getting in the way of a deeper kind of connection that I think everyone in my family lacks, yet desires very much. I was home for a week and half this Christmas, and it was good to be home, but it was a tense time. The specific reason is difficult to pinpoint. But it seems like everyone walks on spiderwebs -- not putting too much pressure on any specific place, or else the whole thing might fall apart. We joke with each other and watch TV together or Christmas shop together, but it's hard to have a conversation that runs deeper than surface concerns. 

My dad and my brother in particular are having trouble connecting, because when they talk they have a hard time getting beyond "here are the ways you've wronged me." Both have strong points of view, and their relationship goes back 40 years, you know? Chris writes in his book about times he's been angry with people in our family, or his mother, but in a way that I think is remarkable healthy and honest. I hope it's not something that causes a rift or a fight, and I don't think he ever says anything that anyone should be offended by. But the act of communication can be offensive to some -- or, at least, it is alien in a way that causes gut-level offense, due to its strangeness. I think the best thing that could happen to my brother and my dad is for them to get caught in a log cabin during a snowstorm.

Or, you know when Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson used to get handcuffed to a bomb together and they learn to set aside their differences and work together? Something like that could work.
They only need to talk, but they need to talk for a long time. Like when you're having a fight with your boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife, and the talk goes over peaks and valleys that are good, then bad, then good again, and you wind up in a place where you're exhausted, but emotionally vulnerable, and saying things that are honest and straightforward and hopefully helpful to everyone.

Well. I've definitely gotten off track here, and the entirety of this post falls under the realm of Things We Don't Talk About in Public, but surely one of the things that's kept me from blogging ever since I read Chris's book is that I knew in order to write about it I'd have to write about things my family doesn't like to talk about. Chris's book is really good and I'm really proud of him for writing it and putting it out in the world. And it could be that saying it here is better than not saying it at all?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Strength Is How Strong You Are

Hey guys. What's new?

I have a new Dungeons & Dragons group. My last regular group was during the LA Days, and we played 4th edition. That's the one where the core races & classes are split up over multiple players' handbooks, and everyone gets sweet special moves when they level up. If you get through 2 or 3 combat encounters in a single session, then you're moving at a pretty quick clip.

If it sounds like I'm being harsh toward 4E, then it's because I'm being kind of harsh toward 4E. In general it's true that your D&D game is as fun as you make it, but after running a 4E campaign for a good three months of weekly sessions, by the end it was just lots of searching through papers for the proper power and, to me, a lot of restrictions on what I could make happen on the fly. The encounters in 4E involve a lot of different types of the same monsters -- Kobold Minions, Kobold Skirmishers, Kobold Slingers, Kobold Dragonshields, Kobold Wyrmpriests and Kobold Slyblades -- and a reliance on miniatures that made game prep lots of work and not a lot of fun. In general I'm not a snobby kind of dude, you know? But I think I really decided that 4E isn't for me.

But! After the move to Baltimore I found myself with a cadre of new friends who were interested in some D&Ding. I don't remember now how the idea first came up, but I know that Kate and I invited more people than we thought would/could come, because I figured it was the kind of event where folks would try it, get bored with it, and then maybe half would become regular players. But this very eve we're going to launch our fourth (I think?) session, and so far everyone has come back for more. The players are mostly new to D&D, and I don't think anyone is an RPG aficionado, so I took the opportunity to foist my preferred edition unto their unsuspecting nerd-holes:

In the words of Pierce Hawthorne, "I won Dungeons & Dragons! And it was Advanced!"

I chose 2nd edition partly because I already have a lot of the books, but mostly because my memory of AD&D is that it fosters more role-playing. The rules are there, but kind of loosey-goosey. Even as they expanded into more campaigns and realms of greater PC-customization, there was a core make-it-up-as-you-go to the game that was surely rooted in playing it in high school when no one wanted to actually read the rulebooks cover to cover, but also, I think, inherent to the system. The jump to 3rd edition brought great satisfaction to the players and DMs who wanted every question answered somewhere in the rulebook -- take a look at the size of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, which is built on the bones of D&D 3.5.

It's probably more true that whatever version of D&D you come to first will be your D&D, regardless of the reasons. Wizards of the Coast have just announced "D&D Next", being the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and they did it in the New York Times of all places. 4E came out in 2008, 3E in 2000, and 2E in 1989. That's a slight acceleration of a few years with each new edition, and the reasons are pretty clear. D&D started with Gary Gygax and Dave Arenson at TSR, the product of a couple of guys playing games in their figurative basement. It grew and changed through licensing deals and cartoon shows and toy lines -- re-reading 80s New Mutants comics lately have led me to some rad ads for D&D the game and D&D the product line -- but in the 1990s TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast, who made their mark on the gaming world with Magic: The Gathering. A few years later, Wizards of the Coast was bought by Hasbro, toy and gaming overlords whose history is the same as most successful 20th century corporations/brands. They had success in the mid-century with things like Mr. Potato Head, and have grown since through mergers and acquisitions. This means that the people currently making Dungeons & Dragons have corporate bosses and conference calls and R&D meetings. I'm not saying Gary Gygax didn't have those over the course of his career, or that AD&D is pure and 4E is not because one was homegrown and the other was playtested at Hasbro-sponsored events. But I am saying that the development of a new set of rules is now more about selling a ton of new core rulebooks, rather than collecting new rules and revisions that have been developed organically by the gaming community.

Part of any given Dungeons & Dragons Edition lifespan is now a planned obsolescence. Maybe that was always true and I was too young or naive or disinterested in such things to observe it before. Maybe it's from having a professional life and seeing office politics play out in a number of environments, so that I can understand better the benefits a major rules overhaul would bring to Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro's year-end sales.

But what I feel in my bones is that I'm having friends over tonight to play AD&D, and the only things it's going to cost us is the price of snacks and beer. Kate & I are going to make a pasta bake and a pot of chili and we're going to sit in my office and pretend to be elves and dwarves and kobolds and owlbears. I'll leave the fighting and the pre-ordering to somebody else.

There's a big difference between playing D&D and being an active member of the D&D online community. As with most online communities, it's full of dark corners and bad attitudes -- but there are two blogs I've been reading since getting back into the game that I feel bring enthusiasm to the topic and show their love of the game. One is Grognardia, written by an RPG creator & enthusiast whose allegiance lies with 1st edition, and the other is The Id DM, written by a gamer who returned to D&D after several years away, and who currently plays 4E. Also, The Escapist did a great series of articles on D&D's Past, Present, and Future, the latest of which is a little outdated now after the "D&D Next" announcement. But still worth a read if you're interested in the game and its history and the people who are invested in either. It's especially illuminating with regard to the switch to 3rd Edition, the Open Gaming License, and the resulting "Edition Wars" that are bound to break out all over again when the new version premieres.