No particular order --
***IRON MAN rocks hard. (The movie, I mean. The various incarnations of IM's comic have mostly been mediocre.) I agree with Jim Henley's assessment; where most action/superhero movies have character bits you kind of drum your fingers through while you wait for the next really cool fight scene, IRON MAN has really cool fight scenes that you pretty much suffer through so you can get to the next cool character bit. I don't know how much of how good this movie is comes straight out of Robert Downey Jr's laser accurate depiction of Tony Stark, but between that, some pretty good supporting cast performances, a decent script, much more competent direction than I'd ever have expected from Jon Favreau, some KICKass special effects, and a cubic parsec of sly, cutesie little in references for the diehard IRON MAN fan, I was in geek heaven from start to finish.
Well, until the very finish. The sight of Samuel L. Jackson coming out of the shadows with an eyepatch on his face nearly sent me into conniptions, as the presence of the goddam Ultimates Nick Fury would seem to indicate that the IRON MAN movie at least takes place in the Ultimates universe, and the very thought of THAT was enough to curdle every last subatomic particle of enjoyment the film had given me up to that point.
But then I thought about it for a minute, and realized that even if from this point forward the Marvel movie studio does make more of an effort to establish a common, shared universe amongst all their film projects, well, it won't be the original Marvel Universe I once loved so much, but it won't be the Ultimates universe, either. It won't be anything we've seen in the comics. It will be... the movie universe. Where, alas, Nick Fury looks a great deal like Samuel L. Jackson instead of, say, David Hasselhoff. But I can get behind that, I guess. Although it makes me wonder if in this universe, Gabe Wilson was the only white member of the Howling Commandoes...
***It was kind of a kick in the head to me earlier today to stumble across the rather startling information that Larry Niven and Steve Barnes' DREAM PARK series (DREAM PARK, THE BARSOOM PROJECT, THE CALIFORNIA VOODOO GAME) are all out of print. To me, this is like finding out that we're not going to be using nickels any more, or the government has outlawed sneakers. DREAM PARK and its two sequels were significant parts of that Must Read List for SF/Fantasy Geeks I mentioned a few entries ago, back in the 80s and early 90s. I honestly do not know at what point it fell off the radar; it seems to me that every time I've visited a bookstore since, like, 1985, there's been a copy of DREAM PARK in some edition or another in the SF section.
If you haven't read DREAM PARK or its sequels, well, I guess you're shit out of luck... okay, not really, you can still get a secondhand copy of any or all of them pretty cheap from various dealers through Amazon.com. I like all of them, although of the three, BARSOOM PROJECT is about the slowest and least interesting, while CALIFORNIA VOODOO GAME is probably the best... although that's tricky, since you won't get the full impact of the third book without reading the previous two first. It's kinda like John Varley's fabulous GAEA trilogy; DEMON is the best one, but you gotta read the first two to really appreciate it.
Strange that you can't walk into a BORDERS and take a copy of DREAM PARK down off the shelf, though.
I was relieved to discover, however, that all Robert A. Heinlein's books are still in print. I mean, I haven't fallen completely into Bizarro-Land, or something.
* * * THE STAND is a very strange book. I was thinking about this earlier today, as I was musing on the story of mine that just appeared in ASTONISHING ADVENTURES #3. It's one of my least favorite stories, because, in all honesty, I don't think the main character accomplishes much of any real significance in it... yeah, he goes up against some stuff and emerges, in the end, triumphant, but he really doesn't work all that hard to do it. It seems to me like good fiction requires many things, but an interesting and important central conflict that presents a mortal challenge to the protagonist, which said protagonist must somehow overcome or resolve is definitely essential, and it seems to me that with that particular story, I didn't bring this off very well.
But I started thinking about THE STAND, and realized that, while this is one of my favorite books (the original version that came out back in 1978, not that monstrous unexpurgated abomination), its protagonists (all seventy or eighty of them) never do a single goddam thing to successfully resolve the central conflict.
No, really. Not one frickin' thing.
A few of them have some minor accomplishments. Stu tricks Elder and escapes from a locked room. Fran manages to bury her father. Larry... it... I... okay, well, Larry picks Lucy over Nadine; that's about as heroic as he ever gets. Nick fails to save anyone from the superflu, fucks a teenage slut, and rides a bike with Tom Cullen. Ralph gets the electricity turned back on, Dana kills herself before Flagg can make her spill the beans on Tom Cullen, Tom Cullen manages to evade pursuit and save Stu's life. Nadine seduces Harold, keeping him on the Dark Side, and then she tricks Flagg into throwing her off a balcony so she won't have to have his kid. The Judge gets shot in the face by numb nuts Bobby Terry... Bobby Terry, for the love of christ. Fabulous victories and amazing accomplishments, every one.
Hell, in the entire nearly endless saga, about the only person who sets out to something difficult and succeeds s Harold; he blows up Nick and Sue. Even that's mostly a failure, though, as he was trying to get the entire Ad Hoc Committee and was thwarted by the return of Mother Abigail.
And Mother Abigail herself? She's God's representative on Earth, wise beyond all mortal ken, goodness and mercy personified, and what's her act? Hobble up the road, kill some chickens, hobble back down the road, slaughter a hog, cook a lot of food, and keep weasels from stealing her chicken, before wandering off into the wilderness to nearly die of starvation and exposure. Then she comes doddering back, maunders some bullshit about people walking to Las Vegas in the clothes they stand up in, and croaks. Not even ONE lousy light-sabre duel with the Walkin' Dude, or anything.
The villains aren't much better at getting shit done. Lloyd stands around watching while Poke kills a whole bunch of people, then has to be rescued from a locked jail cell, then stands around watching while Flagg and Trashcan Man kill a whole bunch of people, prior to being outsmarted by a mentally retarded guy. Trashcan Man burns down and blows up a whole LOT of shit; his greatest accomplishment is not killing himself doing it, and eventually he can't even do that right. Harold kills a few people before Flagg punts him off a cliff; Nadine has a lot of kinky sex with Harold before getting impregnated by Flagg. The Rat Man... c'mon, you're kidding me, right? Who cares about The Rat Man?
And then there's Our Man Flagg his mean self. He's one scary hombre, or at least, he was, before most of the human race died and he supposedly gained magic powers. I mean, before all that happened he was helping kidnap Patty Hearst and killing cops with the Panthers and lynching folks with the Klan and doing all kinds of bad ass shit. But after he got all mojoed up, what did he do? Um... well... er... he levitated a lot. Yep. He sure did that. And he sent out his great big Eye of Mordor to spy on people he didn't like. He got Loyd out of jail, and he passed out a few rocks on chains, and he apparently turned into a crow and flew around a few times, and he sure gave that dipshit Bobby Terry a hard way to go, yes indeed. But, really, all he actually did once he got his Voldemort on was... make a lot of people piss their pants. And you know what? He was doing that before. And it was more impressive when he didn't have magic powers.
So King sets up this fantastic conflict between good and evil, gives us all these really cool heroes and villains, and... nothing. Most of them never even run into each other. The ones that do don't do a goddam thing except yammer at each other. Flagg threatens a lot of people and has Loyd shoot one of them; Glen eats a bullet, and Larry and Ralph get blown up (along with everyone else in Vegas) by the Hand of God smacking the crap out of a nuclear warhead that crazy man Trash has just driven back out of the desert with.
Nobody does a single goddam thing that means a single goddam thing in the entire book. Big hero Stu, Cowboy Stu, "Old Time Tough" Stu, breaks his friggin leg on the way to Vegas and has to be rescued by feebleminded Tom Cullen. And he's one of the very few people who actually confronts and in some way, however minor, triumphs over evil, in the entire extremely lengthy epic fantasy.
And yet, this is a great book, a wonderful book, a classic piece of science fiction/occult fantasy. Populated with fabulous heroes and riveting villains, with a tremendous plot and wonderful dialogue and a fantastic resolution, a book that has thrilled entire generations and inspired dozens of rip offs. One of my all time favorite books.
So, I don't know. Maybe having your heroes do heroic stuff really isn't all that important, after all... at least, if you can write as well as a young Stephen King.
Which actually really doesn't help my lousy stories, since I can't. But, still.