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Back in the world… from Canada

I honestly didn’t think it would be more than seven months between posts (if I did I wouldn’t have left you with such a downer). No special reason for the long hiatus. Actually just all the usual reasons. Work got busier, I got more tired, and I had less creative energy leftover from working on the new book.

But this week I’m in a place with boundless creative energy. I just finished the first day of the Bridges Math + Art conference in Waterloo. There are literally not enough hours in the day to talk to all of the interesting people here. Today I went to talks on fonts, fractals, and fun with OK Go.

In the art math spirit I thought I’d share a quick visual from the new book:

I’ve been playing around with fractal genetic codes from the Fractals for the Classroom series. Simple patterns and rotations that make some interesting forms as you keep iterating. Anyone see a Canadian maple leaf in this one?

More tomorrow…

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This we don’t need

It’s been a week since the attack on OSU campus. As you might imagine this particular act of violence struck a little closer to home than most. I’m an alum of OSU and live a few miles north of the campus.My dad is involved with campus ministry, as are some people I used to go to bible study with. While I don’t go down there as often as I used to, I did see a game with my wife earlier this fall, and I sometimes go for a sentimental walk to No. 1 Chinese, Used Kids Records or just down the Oval. I think of OSU as part of my home.

I’m grateful that people were not more seriously hurt and that the situation was able to be resolved in a short amount of time. Though things certainly seemed uncertain for most of Monday morning (I spent the day trying to get work done while listening to 10TV news feeds and Facebook Live press conferences) the actual incident was only about a minute.

Not long after the attack a friend of mine said on social media that he wasn’t looking forward to whatever hateful thing the President-elect was going to tweet on the subject. And sure enough, the Donald delivered:

ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2016
There are a lot of things wrong with this tweet. For starters, the motive of this 18 year old student will likely never be firmly known, and speculating is a destructive activity. Of course ISIS claimed credit. The attacker isn’t alive to contradict them, and it makes them look like they have more influence. Second, Columbus, Ohio has a thriving Somali community (who were among the first to condemn the attack). We have a legacy of taking in refugees for over 25 years. The president-elect may have won Ohio, but he didn’t win Columbus and he doesn’t know this city or have a right to speak for it.

But honestly it isn’t even Trump I want to talk about, but the people who are using this attack as an opportunity to advocate for a concealed or open carry policy on campus. This culminated today in a group of people parading around the campus carrying guns. Let me repeat. A week after a violent attack on a college campus, a group of non-students organized by a gun-rights activist from Cincinatti decided it was a good idea to march around with guns including assault rifles.

Now to be fair the students were notified, and the advocates were escorted by police the whole way. But this was far from a calm discussion of gun rights. When a professor questioned the group’s presence and said this wasn’t what the college needed, the gun-advocates questioned his citizenship. Lot’s of students are still dealing with the trauma and the fear of the last week. This community is still healing.

There was a lot of luck and providence in last Monday’s attack. A gas leak meant that an officer could be on the scene in less than a minute, and good training resolved the situation quickly. The school’s alert system notified everyone almost as the attack was happening, and the run-hide-fight protocol probably kept a number of students safe. One of the people injured by the attacker had military training, and even tried to grab the knife. There were heroic and well trained people on scene. The students were as prepared as any student population could be. And I believe God was there as well.

Here’s what a someone with a concealed carry permit would have added to that situation. Unless they had hours of extensive training dealing with active-attacker situation, there’s a decent liklihood they would not have drawn their gun, or fired it if they did pull it out. If they drew their gun and fired there is no guaruntee they would not have injured people besides the attacker. And when the officer came on scene they’d be adding another confusing element to a hot situation. Unless they were immediately compliant with the officer’s commands, they’d stand a decent likelihood of being shot themselves.

You may disagree with my assessment, and that’s fine. I know a lot of reasonable people who are gun enthusiasts. Maybe we can discuss it calmly in a month or two. But for right now, why don’t we spend our time having a national conversation about what OSU did to prepare for attacks like these, and praising the work of a fine young officer. Let’s not tar an entire community because of the actions of one person, and let’s stop waving guns around for a while.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

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Squirrel Rant: Mathematical Notation

foamy_by_foamy_the_squirrel

Since this post veers into very inside baseball territory, let’s start with how we got here.

Have you ever had that book that you had to take with you everywhere? It could be the latest exciting story you were reading, or a really handy reference guide, or something with deep sentimental value. Maybe this book has been a passenger in your car; you take it out to lunch even though you know you’re not going to read it while you eat because you might get sauce on the pages. You just want to pick this book up and hold it, flip through the pages, feel the weight of it as you toss it from hand to hand. Maybe you even… smell the pages. That sort of book.

My latest book of this type is “A Perspective in Theoretical Computer Science: Commemorative Volume for Gift Siromoney“:

GiftSiromoney

I know, it’s cliché. Everyone loves this book and has a copy next to their nightstand.

No? Just me, then? Okay.

Why this book is important is that it is the end of a long trail of looking through references in papers, from a stray mention of Kolam patterns in a L-System book by Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz to the work of Darrah Chavey, Paulus Gerdes, Marcia Ascher and countless others. This book has some of the best grounding in the computer science behind drawing curved line patterns using context-free and array grammars, and contains images from work in the field. It is perfect because it is obscure and exactly the right book at the right time, even though it was written almost 30 years ago.

Which brings me to mathematical notation.

As a fledging programmer one of the first things they teach you is to use meaningful variable names. A variable is an object that holds a value. So if I’m counting oranges, I might have a variable called numOranges. What I wouldn’t have is a variable called ‘o’. ‘o’ could be anything: orangutans, oscilloscopes, Timothy Olyphants, etc.

Math on the other hand tends to use one letter symbols all the time. You’d think this was okay, because the symbols only ever have one meaning. A ‘+’ symbol is a plus symbol. ‘π’ is pi the number.

Except when π is an iteration symbol, or a time stage symbol. And ‘x’ means multiplication, until you graduate to Algebra where a dot is now multiply and x is a variable. And ‘+’ could mean turn right if we’re talking L-systems.

Math papers in general make an assumption about mathematicians that isn’t always correct. It assumes they can write in a way that can be understood. They understand their field technically, but not in common language, or even readable technical language. Now I’m not picking on the Siromoney book too much. The text is very readable. Some of the paper’s problems come from problems in reproduction. Older books like this one had papers submitted physically and then photocopied into a full book. This was done a typewriter or an early word-processor (courier font is kind of a tip off that we’re looking at a typewriter), so some subscripts and superscripts are incorrect, and some symbols have to be hand-drawn after the paper is typed.

The bigger offenders are the ones who use a symbol without any explanation. I remember after staring at it for a few seconds that ∪ means union, but it might be nice to have some handy definitions at the back or in the text. Defining your terms is often a necessary part of making any proof, or explaining any new concept. It never hurts to make sure your audience is on the same page you are. Especially if you plan to have terms mean something other than their common meaning, like ∪ meaning recursive level, or some such.

For a while now, my goal with this new book has been to take complicated concepts and explain them in ways that make sense to everyone. These papers often do the opposite, take something simple and explain it in a complicated way. Fractals actually aren’t that hard to understand. More and more after reading these papers it feels like I’m translating from some arcane and obscure language, with symbols that change in meaning from one place to another.

It’s confusing, and it doesn’t have to be this way. We can be rigorous AND we can be clear. If you can explain a concept to a 6th grader, then you really understand it.

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Review: Star Trek Beyond meets expectations

Jaylah_and_scott

SPOILER POLICY FOR THIS REVIEW: Most of the plot details I mention in this review are things we knew from the trailers (casting, fate of Enterprise, name of villain, etc.) I plan to talk a bit about the specifics of the Enterprise sequence, but I’ll avoid some details about the villain. The basics of Jaylah are discussed, as well as some of the cast pairings that happen in the middle section of the movie. If you’re spoiler sensitive, avoid this post until you’ve seen the movie. If you want a sense of what’s cool, what could have been done better, and whether you should go see this movie (you should), then read on.

Right from the first trailer and the announcement of this film’s director a lot of fans were worried that we were getting Star Trek: The Fast and the Furious, a generic action movie instead of true trek spirit we’ve come to know and love. Simon Pegg’s script and a lot of sly references do what they can to challenge that expectation and there are bits and pieces of something greater, but most of the middle section is exactly what we expected from Justin Lin. But the movie is still eminently watchable.

The fate of the Enterprise: There’s a real “oh sh-t!” moment early on in the sequence that my wife actually caught a few seconds before the rest of the audience. The design of the Enterprise throughout the decades has often been criticized for putting the nacelles on long delicate arms. And in Beyond we see the consequences of that choice. It actually takes a good ten or so minutes from initial battle till everything comes crashing down as the Enterprise is picked apart by a swarm of ships unlike anything they’ve ever encountered. Most Trek battles are naval engagements, two heavy cruisers duking it out until one is victorious. The swarm of enemy ships in this movie is a force of nature, one that will be next to impossible to defeat. Everyone gets a good moment, from Scotty’s clever escape, to Uhura’s battle with the baddie, to Kirk saying a last goodbye to the bridge. Everything up through this moment is the Trek we love.

Let’s wander around on a planet for a while: There was a lot of potential in the middle act of this movie, and we get glimpses of it through some character beats. Most of the crew is picked off by Krall and huddled together in cells pretty early, but a few are able to escape on their own or with a buddy. We see some traditional and unexpected pairings here: Kirk and Chekov, Spock and McCoy, Scotty and Jaylah. There’s some real potential for interaction and character development in these sequences, but the best we get (as expected) is Spock and McCoy. Their grudging respect for each other is explored, as well as Spock dealing with a big loss. I’ve been a fan of Urban’s McCoy and feel like he’s been underused until this movie. The Kirk and Chekov stuff is all action, and Scotty and Jaylah are mostly played for laughs. Uhura, Sulu, and rest of crew in Krall’s camp is less compelling, though Uhura’s one-on-one’s against the villain aren’t bad.

New life-forms: Jaylah’s a nice character. She’s got a cool character design. Her outfit’s not exploitative. She’s shown as being a capable engineering novice and a fighter. She calls Kirk “James T.” Overall, not a bad effort. Simon Pegg mentioned on Late Night with Seth Meyers that her name comes from her script designation (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone) and I don’t know if we would have made more of a connection with this character if it was actually Jay Law. Her development is a little lacking, but I look forward to seeing how potential future movies use her (or at least the comic books).

Ordering off the menu: Idris Elba on the other hand, is buried in the makeup and that voice he put on for this movie. Whatever you think of Cumberbatch’s Khan, you were getting everything that actor had to offer as a sympathetic villain. There’s so much we could have gotten from Idris, even just from his voice, that his slow, spittle-spewing performance didn’t give us. On Fallon, Idris remarked that you didn’t really have to act when you looked like his character, which makes me wonder why they used someone as talented as him for the role. If you hadn’t told me it was Idris, I wouldn’t have known for much of the movie.

Callbacks: The trek references in this movie were largely from one of the least popular series: Star Trek: Enterprise. There were a lot of good TOS refs as well. The Enterprise callbacks make sense, since technically the prime and Abrams (Kelvin) timelines share that common ancestry. There was one choice of music in a sequence toward the end of the movie that came off as very hokey, especially considering what it was being used to do. That was probably the most Fast and Furious the movie got. Yes, I know that First Contact used “Magic Carpet Ride” in a sequence, but it made way more sense in context than the moment in Beyond. The best moments are the movie’s tribute to Leonard Nimoy, which is handled with more than just a title card. There’s a moment at the end that really connects with Trek’s 50 year legacy.

Raise the stakes: Star Trek (2009) destroyed Vulcan mid-movie. It’d be hard for any movie to rise to that level without repeating itself. Into Darkness did it with a personal character death, Pike being killed by Khan early on. Beyond does shock us early on with the Enterprise attack, but the actual threat of the movie seems relatively minor. Most of our villain’s violence, and the devastating power of his weapon, is implied not shown. The thing to protect is largely significant because it looks cool and has a lot of people on it (oh and Sulu’s husband and daughter who we’ve never seen before, and never talk to). I’m not sure how you correct this point, but since there was less connection with earlier movies or Trek lore, it seemed more generic in a building-smashy way than the previous films.

Bottom-line: The movie is fun. There’s a lot of laugh lines. The space action sequences are superb. The planet stuff is more generic, but still fun. We’re back to the curse of the odd numbers, but if you think about it, only 1 and 5 are real stinkers. 3, 7 and 9 are all very watchable. I think Beyond actually most resembles 9 though without the romantical time-freezing bits. It’s definitely still in the top third of Trek movies. I doubt you’ll hate it, and you definitely will want to see it in the theater.

Just maybe go for the matinée.

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Why “Threshold” is not the worst, but is in fact the best Star Trek Episode

Transwarp_humans

Threshold” is the most notorious episode of Voyager, possibly of all of Star Trek television. Its writers have called it a “royal steaming stinker.” There have been arguments about whether or not it is canon. At best its been called “that silly warp 10 episode.” Over the years I’ve been one of those voices who have piled on this episode, but much like my newfound appreciation for Star Trek V, I now believe that “Threshold” is not only canon, but is in fact the best episode of any Star Trek series*.

Quick recap of the plot. Paris breaks warp 10, is everywhere at once in the universe, turns into a lizard, abducts the captain, has babies with the captain, then is restored to humanity by the doctor who shoots him full of anti-protons to eliminate the bad DNA while keeping the good. Janeway makes a crack about possibly initiating the mating. The end.

To get where I’m coming from you have to consider the two Star Treks. There’s what we think Star Trek is, and there’s the actual show. In an EHG canon pitch for the TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror” Adam Grosswirth said that Star Trek manages to be “both good and so bad it’s good at the same time.” I think that’s dead on. Star Trek does raise some interesting social and scientific commentary, even the original series, but it’s also pretty silly. It’s okay to like Star Trek for both those reasons. It’s why I insist on watching TOS episodes with the original special effects instead of the remastered.The silliness is part of the charm, and this episode is no different.

“Threshold” is funny

For starters, I forgot how funny the Doctor is in this episode. There’s a dry wit and delivery to everything he says, which is good since we spend a lot of time in sickbay.

Some examples (all quotes are from Memory Alpha):

Janeway: “Can you wake him?”
Doctor: “I don’t see why not. WAKE UP LIEUTENANT!'”

Doctor: “What did he ingest?”
Torres: “Just a cup of Neelix’s coffee.”
Doctor: “It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”

Paris: “I lost my virginity in that room. Seventeen. Parents were away for the weekend.”
Doctor: “I’ll note that in your medical file.”

Even Tuvok gets in on the fun. Upon finding lizard Janeway and Paris, Chakotay is more than a little flummoxed, but Tuvok displays his trademark Vulcan calm:

Chakotay: “I’m picking up traces of Human DNA… it’s them. Although, I have to admit, I’m not sure which one is the captain.”
Tuvok: “The female, obviously.”

Chakotay: “I don’t know how I’m going to enter this into the log.”
Tuvok: “I look forward to reading it.”

“Threshold” is award-winning

Did you know this episode won an Emmy? It beat DS9’s “The Visitor” for “Outstanding Makeup for a Series.” That should make it worthy of some serious consideration, right? I mean, it takes a lot of work to make pulling out your own tongue believable.

I was going to add a picture but I still like you guys more than that.

The premise is sound

I know a lot of people have argued that the original series went faster than warp 10 on many occasions, but it was established by Gene Roddenberry sometime toward the beginning of TNG (though not before “Where No One Has Gone Before” apparently) that warp 10 is the top barrier. It has something to do with different scales of measurement between the two warp drive numbering systems, but truthfully it’s because TOS threw those numbers out pretty willy-nilly and TNG decided to be a little more consistent.

This is the first of several engineering project episodes for Paris and it really establishes him not only as a good helmsman but as a test pilot as well, in the tradition of Chuck Yeager and Zefram Cochrane. There’s even a reference to Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier breaking flight (he had close the cockpit door with a broom handle because of two broken ribs). Paris is almost scrubbed from the flight because of health concerns, but insists on flying anyway. Working on stuff like this is what brought us the Delta Flyer a few years later. It takes him from being just one of the vaguely handsome people on the bridge and makes him interesting, and it establishes his working and personal relationship with Torres early on.

That warp 10 would have some unforeseen physiological effects is pretty consistent with the way Star Trek handles these sorts of technological advances. The exact direction is weird to be sure, but no more weird than the virus that devolved everybody on TNG and made Worf into some kind of werewolf-snake thing.

And Voyager could have gotten home using this technology. The doctor did develop a treatment. Two people recovered from it. If they’d known the weird evolution thing was coming they could have flown at warp 10, gotten treatment, and been home in time to avoid the Borg. Sure maybe one or two would have stayed lizards but that’s a small price to pay.

Star Trek is pretty weird

So leaving TOS out of it let’s take the show that a lot of people think is the best trek, TNG. You remember that episode with the flying space pirogi?

GalaxysChild

Or how about eating Deanna Troi cake?

Deanna_Troi_cake

And okay let’s pick on TOS a little. A dog is an alien?

SpaceDog

Lizard’s looking pretty good now, right?

Threshold is high-concept

Though most of these beats were removed from the script, “Threshold” does challenge some assumptions about human evolution. Most of Star Trek, and other sci-fi, assume that a higher form of life means something either basically human, or maybe pure energy. This episode actually flips the script, saying that we might have a deeper understanding of the universe as a simpler form of life. Sure it looks pretty alien to us now, but in a few million years who knows?

This is actually an interesting idea, and one that Star Trek or some other show could do more to tackle. At the very least it seems logical to assume that we won’t fully understand the benefits of our next stage of evolution as a species until we encounter them, and we might not know where the human race is really going. That’s an exciting notion.

Why “Threshold” is the best

So if I haven’t convinced you that “Threshold” is the best or even a good episode of Star Trek, try this on for size.

The evolved form of humanity might be “The Doctor”

When Paris is revived from an initial brush with death, he has two hearts. As we know, another Doctor whose name we do not know also has two hearts, and can go anywhere in time or space. Tom Paris just brought Tardis technology to Voyager, and without the annoying grinding sound.

What

Have a pleasant weekend.

*Somehow I managed to finish this without various internal organs trying to leap up and beat my brain to death. Weirdly, I leave this at least convinced it’s not the worst episode of Star Trek. I mean there was that other Voyager episode with the giant flying bacteria. Bleagh.

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Ben’s guide to too much Star Trek Comics goodness

HumbleStarTrekBundle

IDW and Humble Bundle have teamed up to deliver 50 Star Trek Trade Paperbacks for the 50th anniversary. Whether you’re a casual fan, or an avid collector like me, there’s a little something for everyone. Humble Bundle works on tiered payment system, some comics for $1, some for $8, some for $15, and even greater bonuses for $25. It can be a little difficult with a bundle this size to really know what’s worth your hard-earned money. That’s where my years of collecting Star Trek comics are here to help.

Should I spend $1?

The Good

Both the TNG collections here are pretty good stories. Ghosts is a classic TNG tale with a little of the supernatural thrown-in. Hive shows a world in which the Borg are finally victorious, and details a rebellion led by Locutus to change the past using post-Voyager 7 of 9. Countdown serves as a nice bridge between the old and the new, filling in some of the background before the first Abrahms Star Trek movie (and firmly establishing Data’s resurrection after Nemesis). It also sets up Nero as a relate-able and complex villain, more so even than the movie.

The 3 Classics volumes are just that, some of the best work that came out of the DC Wildstorm era of Star Trek comics. I covered one of the stories in the second collection a few weeks ago. The three volumes are a mix of Voyager and TNG tales. Voyager’s Avalon Rising in Volume 3 is an unexpected treat. The Gorn story isn’t my favorite, but the artwork is beautiful.

The Bad

Ever wonder what the first comics page of Star Trek looked like? Probably not what you’d expect:

PlanetOfNoReturn

The Gold Key collections are sometimes beautifully drawn, but lack an understanding of Star Trek technology, how the characters act, or Starfleet values. Issue 1 ends with a mass genocide of an entire planet encouraged by Spock. These comics do sometimes fall into “so bad it’s good” but not often.

DS9 Fools Gold isn’t much better. It’s set between seasons 3 and 4 of the show, but lacks any tie-in to the larger mythology of the show. Sisko (and many others) look comically angry at many points, and the story meanders and retreads to a bland conclusion. Nicely drawn, but little there.

Star Trek Ongoing Volumes 1 – 3 are largely retreads of classic TOS episodes with the new cast. Often it’s a direct retelling of the episode with maybe one minor detail changed. Outcomes are occasionally different, but few of these tales rise above the source material. And the two issue per story format feels at times too short and too long.

The Meh

The Movie Adaption is okay. The artwork is typical of the brothers Tipton of whom I’m not a big fan. The 6 issue format gives the story room to breathe, but nothing is really added.

Countdown to Darkness doesn’t live up to the previous Countdown series. It’s a depiction of the Mudd incident (which would be more appropriately named the April incident, but whatever), which basically explains how the crew got that one weird ship the flew during Into Darkness. Not bad, but not great.

Bottom-line: Spend the $1 if you like trek. There’s definitely something for you at this level (the Classics if nothing else). And it can be fun to make fun of just how bad the Gold Key stuff is.

Should I spend $8?

The Good

The Classics series continue with the first TNG comics series and the finale arc of the first DC TOS series. The TNG series is a mixed bag, but does feature the only Christmas Star Trek episode I’ve ever read. It also portrays a human Q long before the series did. The “Who Killed Captain Kirk?” story is Peter David at his prime. It’s funny, well-drawn, there’s a wedding, a trip through hell, what more could you want?

The Archives line is similar to Classics, but covers more of the DC run. I’ve written about volumes 1+2 before (as part of my hidden Amazon Star Trek Comic gems). The quality in the Humble Bundle coloring is better than the Amazon transfer. The 3rd collection is two Gary Seven stories, the excellent Peacemaker, and the so-so Convergence arc (in case you wanted to know more about the aliens from TNG: Time’s Arrow).

Star Trek Ongoing Volumes 4-6 tell more original and character-driven stories. We get individual stories on Uhura, Chekov + Sulu, Bones and, Scotty that provide some background on how these characters came to Starfleet. We get a neat tale from a redshirt’s perspective (loosely based on The Apple). We learn more about Keenser, Scotty’s littlest assistant. More personal and less epic, and much better than the first three volumes.

The Bad

Nero is terrible. It completely undoes the good work by Countdown. It has V’Ger, and Nero stuck in Rura Penthe for 20 years. Enough said.

The Meh

New Visions is a great idea. They’re photo-novel episodes of Star Trek, made with a combination of CG sets, and stills from the original series. Some of the stories are quite inventive, but the art is lacking. And given Byrne’s excellent artwork on other Star Trek tales, I always find myself wanting him to have drawn these rather than photoshop.

The Gold Key stories get better. The Enterprise Mutiny is actually a pretty good tale.

Spock Reflections goes back over significant moments in Spock’s life, as he makes the decision to go to Romulus. It’s another brothers Tipton tale, and kind of melancholy, but better than some of their other work.

Bottom-line: IDW steps up its game on Ongoing, there’s a ton of the best of DC here, and New Visions is entertaining if not perfect. Plus this is the level where you’ll probably be getting New Visions Vol. 2, Ongoing 7-9 (which includes a fabulous Q arc) and Doctor Who crossover vol. 1. $8 is probably a good investment.

Should I spend $15?

The Good

The two Year Four volumes are great, particularly The Enterprise Experiment which features the return of the female Romulan from The Enterprise Incident and is written by DC Fontana. Assignment Earth tells lost tales of Gary Seven by John Byrne at the top of his game.

The Bad

I’ve written before about Harlan Ellison needing an editor. This version of City on the Edge of Forever is definitely not better than the original. Artfully done, yes, but badly structured.

The WTF?

So yeah, crossovers. Star Trek with Doctor Who, Green Lantern, Legion of Super Heroes, and Planet of the Apes.

The Doctor Who cross isn’t as good as you’d think. They make Picard kind of petulant, and frankly the Doctor having to convince Picard of the right thing to do rings wrong for me. There’s a nice bit with Doctor 4 and the TOS crew, and the artwork is great but otherwise this is long and kind of less then I thought it would be.

The Green Lantern arc is … weird. Want to see which crew-members get which rings? Want to see General Chang from Star Trek VI? Then this is the book for you… I guess?

Haven’t read Legion of Super-Heroes, but the cover art is cool.

Planet of the Apes is an equally weird premise, but think of this. What would it be like if Shatner and Heston acted in a scene together? That might make this worth-while.

New Visions Vol. 3 is really okay, but we do see TOS encounter the Borg which I think is almost as stupid as when Enterprise did it. And is that Scott Adsit from 30 Rock in the last story? Yes it is.

ScottAdsit

Bottom-line: $15 dollars is a lot of money. The Ongoing volumes are good, but not as good as 4-9. Year Four is great, but these cross-overs are kinda painful. Why IDW doesn’t cross Star Trek with another property it owns like Ghostbusters, TMNT, Back to the Future, or Galaxy Quest I’ll never know. There are still gems here, but maybe only for hard-core fans. And if you like Green Lantern? Hey man, you do you.

Should I spend $25?

Ask your mom.

Seriously, I’m not sure if this story will appear later in a less expensive cheaper form. If you’re willing to spend $15, then it’s only another $10 to get this one-of-a-kind artifact, but I think most of you will be just happy with $8. Or going outside if you’re weird like that.

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Snap Judgment: YA Da Vinci Code

Apparently Dan Brown’s popular novel, The Da Vinci Code, is being adapted into a YA friendly version. According to Publisher’s Weekly the book will be abridged and will have content more appropriate to a teen audience, while maintaining the original plot.

Now I’ll start this brief rant by saying that I have never read The Da Vinci Code and have no particular judgment as to its quality one way or another. It is a very popular book which means that it might also be a good book. My quibble is with abridgments and “audience appropriate” books.

For children I kind of get these sorts of books. Series like the Illustrated Classics series, or abridgments of classic old works like Don Quixote and The Three Musketeers give children a general sense of the story without having to deal with some of the archaic language. I am someone who grew up with Wishbone after all. Children’s versions are a good way to teach children that old stories can be just as entertaining as newer material. But even in elementary school we were reading original versions of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Sherlock Holmes mysteries and all sorts of other books.

One of the weird anachronisms of Peanuts that somehow survived to the most recent film was having a character read War & Peace. The age of those kids isn’t firmly specified, but we’re talking an 8-10 year old reading a book with over 1000 pages. These jokes started early on in the strip’s life, and it makes me wonder if kids in the fifties and sixties were held to a higher standard than kids of today. Then again, Schulz had characters often giving Snoopy chocolate, so he’s not a perfect guide. But I think the basic idea holds up, kids are capable of dealing with the original and are more mature than we might give them credit for.

The_Peanuts_Movie-_War_and_Peace

And we’re talking about YA which is aimed at an older audience (and is in fact read by many adults). A lot of YA content deals with violence and post-apocalyptic worlds, so my suspicion is that the only edits for content in The Da Vinci Code have to do with some of the weird sex stuff. I’ll admit that’s a guess, but I bet I’m right. The only abridgment I “enjoyed” in high-school was Les Miserables, and only because it meant that I didn’t have to slog through the full text of a book literally titled “The Miserable.” Most high-school students don’t like to be talked down to, they like to be treated like adults.

The YA version of the Code is being written to inspire young people to an interest in history, but I wonder why Brown (or his publisher) assumes that such an interest can’t be inspired by reading the actual book? I could equally understand taking on a new project, targeted at a YA audience that hits on many of the same themes, but has a unique storyline more “appropriate” to its audience. But instead, he’s rewriting a book he wrote over 13 years ago. One wonders why.

Honestly, I think the YA book is just an attempt to cash in one more time on the brand and I doubt the book brings anything new to the table. I’m sure it will sell, and that people will read it. But if my hypothetical child is interested in The Da Vinci Code, or books like it, I think I’ll stick to the original. Or War & Peace, that’ll keep the kid busy for a while 🙂

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