LNH/REVIEW: Owls, Hamsters & Herrings
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 22 22:30:54 PDT 2006
OWLS, HAMSTERS & HERRINGS
"Still owls would be the natural enemies
of hamsters. What with hamsters always
swooping down out of trees, carrying
off owls and devouring them. Still, I
suppose it's all part of the grand
circle of life."
Welcome to the world of Kieran O' Callaghan.
Some of you might not be familiar with the name,
but he was one of the funniest authors ever to put
those three magic letters, L N H, in his subject line.
How funny was he?
The above quotation, which gives this essay
two-thirds of its title, wasn't even from one of his
stories. That was just something he said to me once
in conversation, something he tossed off very casually
and very quickly, right off the top of his head. (He
was kind enough to let me put it in my signature for
some time.) And if he was that funny when he wasn't
even trying... well, just imagine how funny he was
when he actually sat down and thought up and wrote a
story. That's how funny he was.
Kieran had a photographic memory, and he had read
through the entire Eyrie LNH archive. Which means
that he knew everything you could possibly want to
know about the LNH. Any question about any character,
he could answer it, right off the top of his head.
How good was his photographic memory? It was so
good, that when I was running late on a creative
writing assignment for tenth grade that involved
compiling twenty poems together (because, you know,
picking twenty poems by other poets and stapling them
together is _so_ creative), he was able to tell me,
verbatim, poems by Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and
a host of others. To me, that's damn impressive: the
only poem I know by heart is "The Red Wheelbarrow".
And though my teacher didn't share my esteem of
Kieran's amazing memory (apparently he considered New
Zealanders to be a less reliable source than the
internet-- which reminds me, he flunked me on that
assignment because he had never heard of Robert Frost,
and so he couldn't have been a real poet), it proves
my next point: Kieran was a damn helpful guy.
He made story suggestions. He proof-read RETCON
MABLE for me. He gave comments on different
storylines. He was kind enough to point out when one
of my issues of NET.ROPOLIS was invalidated by the
last issue of ULTIMATE NINJA (I hadn't gotten that far
yet). He went to bat for me during one of the many,
stupid flame wars I set off. And he's the one that
gave Lily Paschall her codename, Groundswell.
In return, I suggested a codename for the female
lead in his series, F.I.S.H. FORCE. What was that
codename I suggested for Allison Brady? For the life
of me, I can't remember. And unfortunately, she never
did get around to using it.
This, then, is a sad story.
It's the story of the six and only LNH stories ever
written by Kieran O' Callaghan.
It's the story of F.I.S.H. FORCE.
And F.I.S.H. FORCE, in turn, is the story of two
people (and one Flying Indestructible Super Herring):
Lawrence Twain and the aforementioned Allison Brady.
I remember that, when F.I.S.H. Force was first posted,
it was Allison who held my interest; upon rereading
it, however, I find Lawrence a much more interesting
and well-developed character. (Chalk it up to my
bizarre fetish for members of the opposite sex.)
In the beginning, Lawrence Twain is the Unluckiest
Man Alive, and is actually referred to in the text
(okay, in the recap box) as the Universe's Punching
Bag. Dropped on the head by the doctor who delivered
him, he's been in coma after coma, car accident after
car accident. This is a guy who just can't catch a
break... until he does.
When the Cosmic Whim chooses Lawrence (and Allison)
to be the champions of a strange, pin-shaped world, it
gives them both powers. Allison gets generic
super-strength/invulnerability, while Lawrence gets
phenomenally good luck. Like some strange cross
between Woozy Winks, Longshot, and Gladstone Gander,
Lawrence finds himself protected by coincidences;
things seem to just sort of fall into place without
him having to do much of anything at all.
Now, this could be an amusing character (like Jack
Cole's delightful Mr. Winks) or it could be an
annoying one (like Longshot or the cosmically
irritating Gladstone). But Lawrence is something
different altogether. A lifetime of mishaps prevents
him from being as cocksure as most luck-based
protagonists are. Instead, he gets paranoid, waiting
ominously for the other shoe to drop. It's like the
quiet before the storm, he tells Allison.
F.I.S.H. FORCE is a "funny" LNH book (as opposed to
a serious one), and it's very much in the tradition of
the best LNH stories. At the same time, it is unique
in that it doesn't depend on "funny" characters with
"funny" powers. We have the somewhat unusual (but not
unheard of) luck-powers and we have
super-strength/invulnerability. (Okay, there's also
the flying, indestructible Red Herring to take into
account, but his appearances in the series are
actually few and far between. It's really about
Allison and Lawrence.) So, rather than the comedy
coming out of inherently ridiculous powers, it comes
out of the characters, the dialogue they speak, their
reactions to the world around them, and that world
Something that the incomparable and much-missed
Aaron Veenstra pointed out in his review of F.I.S.H.
FORCE # 1 is how much of the humour is grounded in
every-day annoyances: for example, a group of
mysterious robed figures stands for hours upon hours
waiting for universal tech support ("Please stay on
the circle and your desperate plea for aid will be
answered as soon as possible"). Or, consider
Allison's conversation with a telemarketer:
"No, I'm sorry, I don't make the long distance
company decisions for this family. (pause)
What exactly does that mean: 'I won't tell if
you don't'? (pause) What's my credit card
number? I don't have a credit card. (pause)
No, I won't get a credit card and then call you
with the number! (pause) Please don't yell at
me, I'm sorry for wasting your time, I... Hey,
wait a minute, you called me!"
Though one could nitpick that no real telemarketer
would stop talking long enough for Allison to say all
this, it's not really all that much different from
reality as we know it. Telemarketers _are_ that pesky
(Another tangent, last one, I promise: here's a fun
game you can play the next time a telemarketer calls
you. Pretend that an elderly relative has just
fallen, broken their hip, and bashed their head open
on a table, and that they're gashing blood all over.
Tell the telemarketers this.
Nine times out of ten, THEY WILL KEEP YOU ON THE
My point is, is that Kieran grounds his series in
every-day experiences, and than extrapolates from
those experiences, exaggerating them ever so slightly
for comedic effect. In fact, he extrapolates from
extraordinary experiences-- like Lawrence's-- as well.
You can count on him to put new twists on things, and
that's what makes his work so incredibly funny.
From time to time, an LNH author will invoke Monty
Python. It's a cheap ploy, but it's one that works,
every time: a guaranteed laugh. Even Kieran does it,
but when he does, he puts a new twist on it, one that
works on our expectations and knowledge of the gag.
In the first three-part story arc, Lawrence follows
an Enchanter named Tim on a journey to the end of the
pin-shaped world (it tapers to a point and, in an
interesting extrapolation, as one nears the point they
can see the hills and sky on the _other_ side of the
pin, below them). Tim warns of death-- death with
big, nasty teeth! Which is, of course, as anyone
who's seen THE HOLY GRAIL can tell you, a cute little
In the Python film, the rabbit is, of course,
"death with big, nasty teeth!" But in F.I.S.H. FORCE
# 2, Lawrence (probably thanks to his good luck) is
able to walk up to the bunny, hold it in his arms, and
stroke it upon the head. I nearly pissed my pants the
first time I read this, way back in October of 1997.
When I read it again a few days ago, I _did_. (Had to
leave one of my jobs early. Thanks a lot, O'
But that's not even the punchline. In the third
issue, when Lawrence is attacked by well-armed
soldiers from the future,
"There was a white flash from out of the darkness,
and one of the soldiers was lifted off his feet
to land face down on the rocky ground. The white
thing flew from the downed soldier's back to the
next soldier, who fell onto his back and began to
flail wildly. One of his arms managed, by sheer
luck to hit the white blur dead center. It flew
off to the side, rolled, then reared up again in
all its bunny fury. In the next instant it was
upon the soldier again, clawing and biting and
And, should my bladder have been full, I might have
spoiled two pairs of pants. (:-|
After the first three issues, Lawrence, Allison and
the Red Herring become members of the LNH. And it's
in these three issues that Kieran's love of the LNH
comes to the fore.
The fourth issue, arguably the weakest of the six,
takes the form a letter home from Allison to her
mother, in which she relates how she and Lawrence
signed up for LNH membership, including their
initiation-by-Peril-Room (Lawrence lasts twelve
minutes, out of sheer luck). There are some things it
does really well: for example, it is here that
Lawrence's potential love interest is introduced, in a
passing reference. Kieran doesn't break with the
formal conceit to give it more dramatic weight. It
wouldn't make sense for Allison to tell her mother in
great detail about this woman who gave Lawrence, a guy
she only met just recently, her phone number. It
would just be something mentioned in passing, almost
like an after-thought. And yet he still manages to
make it memorable, so that when it gets picked up
again in the fifth issue, we still remember it from
At the same time, there are other spots in # 4 that
don't work so well: for example, Allison claims not to
know the identity of a certain LNHer, and then a
couple of paragraphs later, he introduces himself as
the Ultimate Mercenary. If the conceit is that
Allison is writing this letter _after_ having met
Ultimate Merc (but still during the application
process), then there's no reason for her to feign
confusion for those couple of paragraphs. But
speaking of Ultimate Merc...
Besides Adrian McClure, no one has written the
Ultimate Mercenary as well as Kieran O' Callaghan has.
In fact, before Adrian McClure, no one but Kieran O'
Callaghan wanted to write about the son of the clone
of the clone of the clone of the clone of the son of a
fan of an alternate reality Ultimate Ninja. Which
brings up something else about the man.
Like Saxon Brenton (who, since Kieran's absence, I
have depended on as _the_ LNH historian) did with his
continuation of my DEATH OF CHEESECAKE-EATER LAD,
Kieran was one of the first people who made me feel
like I was a part of the LNH community. This is not
to fault those that turned their noses up at me; I
probably would have turned my nose up at me, too. (In
my defense, I _was_ fourteen years old and had never
really written prose before.) But Kieran not only
took the time to read my illiterate, typo-ridden
"stories", but he actually saw what I was trying to do
and did it for me!
In his hands, Ultimate Mercenary is the perfect
lackey, and the relationship between Ultimate Ninja
and his fan's son's clone et cetera was a much more
complex one. In his hands, Manga Girl wasn't an
idiotic cipher, but deliciously perverse. And when he
wrote the better-left-forgotten Society of Pool Heroes
(Master Rafter, Lifeguard State-the-Obvious, and, in a
parody of Warrior Nun Areala, a character whom I had
never actually read, Warrior Anchor Oreolo), I felt
kind of glad that I wrote the "story" that introduced
In re-reading # 4-6, I'm really surprised by how
many of my creations show up. I wonder if this is
because I was on friendly terms with Kieran, often
chatting with him about different story ideas, or if
it was because he saw something in those characters,
something I did not yet have the ability or experience
# 5 is perhaps my favourite of the six. First off,
it's full of incredibly funny moments. Like this
exchange between Bob, a shallow executive, and
Lawrence, whom he is offering a cushy job:
"I just loved that joke you told me," Bob said,
grinning. "The one about the guy with the
Mercedes who tells a hitchhiker that his hood
ornament is an aim sight for bicyclists! Then
the hitchhiker asks to see him hit a cyclist
and he misses on purpose!" by this point, Bob
was red in the face from laughing. "And the
hitchhiker says, he says 'You oughtta get that
thing fixed mister, if I hadn't opened the door,
we'd have missed 'im!'"
"That wasn't actually a joke," Lawrence replied
glumly, "it was an anecdote. I was the cyclist."
In # 5, Lawrence is confronted with lots of choices:
should he call Ellen the dream-date? should he take
the six-figure job with the morally-bankrupt company?
should he join the LNH?
Meanwhile, Allison acclimates herself to LNHHQ; as
a result of a misunderstanding, she finds herself in
the position of tour guide. And her tour of the LNH
is funny stuff. I love her critique of the Jurassic
Park movie (even if I don't share her esteem of the
book). I love the way she very deftly manipulates
Cheesecake-Eater Lad into giving free cheesecake to
every member of the tour. The scene with the kiwis is
precious, the way the tour group torments
Multi-Tasking Man is an imaginative use of the
sturdiest of legionnaires, and I absolutely adore the
revelation that the LNH is powered not by an electric
company, but by the Invisible Incendiary. And the
best part is, there's more of the tour in # 5 & 6 than
I've revealed! So go read it!
Another intriguing thread is introduced in # 5: the
Ultimate Ninja has basically railroaded Lawrence,
Allison, and the Herring into LNH membership, with the
express purpose of them becoming a sub-group-- HIS
sub-group. He has an agenda for them, some unfinished
business that needs attending. What is this business?
How will the Red Herring lead the team?
Will Lawrence join the LNH or the corporate
Will he call Ellen?
Unfortunately, we'll never know the answers to
these questions. Or, well, it's unlikely, at any
rate. Because the last issue of F.I.S.H. FORCE is #
6. And that is part two of a three part crossover...
I want to say this much about it: I think that
Kieran's chapter stands on its own, and that it's
easily the best part of the crossover. So TEENFACTOR
should not be a deterrent from reading every issue of
this wonderful series. YOU DON'T NEED TO READ
TEENFACTOR TO GET ANYTHING OUT OF FISH FORCE # 6.
And, to Kieran's credit, the crossover is not just
an interruption of his story arc, but rather a
continuation of it: Lawrence Twain and Carolyn Forge
have a lot in common at this point in their lives.
Their meeting comes out of their characterization.
I'm not sure which of us suggested the crossover, but
I'd bet good money that Kieran was the one who saw the
I really enjoy # 4-6, but that enjoyment is
tempered with a sense of longing and fatality: I can
see where Kieran was setting things up for later, and
I know that with these three issues he was just
getting the ball rolling.
There are many LNH authors who aren't particularly
prolific. But in some of those cases, you can look at
their work and see that it has a beginning, a middle,
and something approximating an end. But in cases like
Kieran's-- he was just getting started.
I hope that one day Kieran will return to RACC in
general and the LNH in particular; I know that if he
does, the chances that he'll take up F.I.S.H. FORCE
again are unlikely: the last issue was posted nearly
nine years ago.
But just because the story of F.I.S.H. FORCE is a
sad story, it doesn't mean that F.I.S.H. FORCE is a
sad one: it's one of the funniest, most memorable, and
spectacular LNH series in the archives. It is as
accomplished in its prose style as it is funny and
immediate; it also has a lot of charm to spare, and
that, like everything else, comes out of his
It's got everything you could ever want in a
series, with the exception of just one thing: more of
So go read it already!!!
Director of MILOS, LIFE AND TIMES OF A DREAMER
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-- Ryan M. Niemiec, co-author of MOVIES AND MENTAL ILLNESS
"If a comic book, book, movie or novel is not somebody's fantasy
then who wrote it and to whom does it appeal to? In order for a
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doesn't satisfy our wishes and what satisfaction at all you can get
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