Air time, head chopping, fly-bys. No, it's not skateboarders' slang but the language of roller coaster enthusiasts. "Air time," as you might expect, is the sensation of leaving your seat. The illusion that decapitation is imminent as one section of track dives under another is called "head chopping," and "fly-bys" are when two trains race toward each other, only to swerve away at the last minute. These are just a few of the terms coaster addicts use to describe aspects of the most awesome, heart-stopping coaster rides across the nation.
For those who'd rather experience the thrills from the safety of their couch, the Discovery Channel is offering a trio of documentaries on thrill rides and the riders who seek them in Thrills, Chills and Spills. The special features three documentaries: Top Ten Coasters 2002, Extreme Rides 2002, and Ultimate Guide: Roller Coasters.
State-of-the-art "coaster cams" and custom audio mounts capture the thrill of the ride. And what makes a good ride? Speed, gravity-defying courses, and the sensation of not knowing what's going to happen next, according to coasters from the American Coasters Enthusiasts (A.C.E.). One of A.C.E.'s missions is to locate classic coasters that are SBNO (Standing But Not Operating) and either renovate or preserve them. The group led the way in renovating Leap-the-Dips, now considered the world's oldest operating coaster, located in Altoona, Penn. The 100-year-old coaster is quaint by modern standards and is one of only two side-friction, figure-eight coasters.
More than a year in the making, Top Ten Coasters 2002 takes viewers on a tour of the top 10 coasters in the world, as selected by online responses to the Discovery Channel. The top 10 include modern steel and old-fashioned wooden coasters from Florida to California, New Jersey to Indiana. If descending at 80 degrees and careening 80 miles an hour 300 feet above the ground isn't enough to get your blood flowing, Extreme Rides 2002 features some of the most hair-raising rides for the thrill seeker. The most treacherous of the featured rides is X, or the Fourth Dimensional Coaster, a stomach-churning ride that puts coasters in vehicles that do 360-degree spins, independent of which direction the coaster is moving. For those more interested in the how and why of roller coasters, Ultimate Guide: Roller Coasters detail the physics, engineering, and design of roller coasters, how riding affects the body, and just what it takes to be a roller coaster junkie.
Thrills, Chills and Spills premieres May 27, 7pm, on the Discovery Channel, with encore screenings throughout the month. Check local listings.
All right, so maybe you do want to spend some time away from the tube. Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans have two books they can take along for some poolside reading.
Released earlier this year, a collection of scholarly essays titled Fighting the Forces, What's at Stake in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' treats the show with the serious attention fans have long known it was worthy of. Although the essays take an academic approach ("'I'm Buffy and You're ... History': The Postmodern Politics of Buffy"), the arcane jargon is nearly absent, yet each essay offers a serious, entertaining perspective on the social, literary, and artistic aspects of Buffy. Christianity, race, class, gender, and fandom are covered in the 20 chapters edited by Rhonda V. Wilcox and David Lavery. Previous works by Wilcox and Lavery include examinations of Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure, The X-Files, and The Sopranos.
The introduction by Wilcox and Lavery offers a great launch into the book, including a reiteration of what "quality television" is, according to respected professor of popular culture and the official "go to" man of television critics across the nation, Robert Thompson of Syracuse University. From all indications, Buffy measures up just fine.
Fighting the Forces, What's at Stake in 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' is available in paperback from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Ask your local bookseller or call 800/462-6420 or order online at www.rowmanlittlefield.com.
Unlike a prior publication with an identical title, Tales of the Slayers, described as a graphic novel, has the distinction of having contributions by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and series star Amber Benson (Tara). This slim volume of short pieces features a slayer in different parts of the world, throughout time. While each piece is lavishly illustrated, which probably accounts for the three-month delay in its release (it was originally scheduled for a November 2001 publication), the tales disappoint by being too brief and impressionistic. Just as the reader gets under the skin of a featured slayer, it's off to another tale. Still, the variety of slayers, set in real-world situations (the slayer set in Nazi Germany is an intriguing read), sets the imagination awhirl, providing inspiration for Slayer fans to concoct their own narratives. That, or you could just stay by the pool, soaking in the pretty pictures.
Tales of the Slayers is available wherever graphic novels and comics are sold or online at www.darkhorse.com.