Powers: Gods

This is the last book in the Powers series!

Okay, it actually isn’t, but at the same time, if you’re going to figure out a way to wrap up the apparently third run of your series before rebranding it as something slightly different, and your series started out as “What if cops had to investigate when superheroes get murdered, and also what if one of those cops used to be a superhero but lost his powers?”, then it stands to reason that you have to end bigger.

Bigger, in this case, is solving the murder of a god, Damocles. Which… okay, it felt a little cheap, and here’s why. If you’re going to have had Greek (in this case) gods hanging out throughout the history of the series, there in the background all along, then you can’t wait to mention it until one of them is going to be your plot device. You especially cannot have your commentary track TV show that everyone (or possibly no one) watches, Powers That Be, talk about said gods and whether people believe in them as gods or as fancier heroes or not at all, like it’s a whole big theological issue, and also never have mentioned them in the previous thirteen volumes of your ongoing series. It’s a problem!

BUT: if you can ignore all that, which I was able to do until the composition of this missive you see before you, they act as a good plot device to reveal a lot of closely held character secrets and catapult the series into its next phase, which I will no doubt discuss next time, whenever that may be.

Ancillary Sword

Look at me, cleaning up my partially-read series backlog. Woo! But also, it’s nice in this case because I still remembered at least a little bit of Ancillary Justice. Not nearly everything, but probably enough.

A thing about that book and about Ancillary Sword that I find disheartening in myself is how much importance I place on gender. I should not spend large swathes of a book who is purposely (by the author, at least) cloaking gender by making it completely irrelevant to the society the series portrays, I should not I was saying spend most of the book wondering as to the gender identity of its characters as they come and go. And yet I do. Not that non-binary is what the book is portraying, exactly, but it is definitely clear to me via this book (and okay, not only via this book) that it’s not a concept I have yet comprehended. Gender dysphoria, I comprehend. Rejection of the concept, I just… don’t. (And for all I know, that description of it may even be missing the point.)

That bit of failed self-examination aside, the book continues to concern itself with the concept of justice, albeit from a different angle. A particularly of the moment angle, although the fires[1] of BLM had not yet started when the book was being written, as it happens: what justice is owed by a government to its citizens, especially when not all citizens are considered equal, and the divisors are by (in this instance) planet of origin[2].

Anyway: it is a) a good book, once more, and b) a maddeningly sparse book in the sense of resolving what I had considered to be the prime issue of the series. Okay, that’s not right. You don’t resolve the issues of your trilogy in the second book, but you… you advance them, right? This barely felt like that at all.

But that’s a me issue, reacting to the structure with which I have been presented. Taken on its own, this book, just like the one before it, is one of the best things I’ve read in many a year. Would heartily recommend.

[1] Figurative fires. Don’t even with me on this.
[2] At least I think I’m reading this correctly, between the lines. It’s made explicit now and again that there are alien species, and how many. Therefore, everyone else must be human and just of different origins prior to the Imperial Radch swallowing them up, whether decades, centuries, or millennia ago. I think. Like a lot of sci-fi, things are left for you to figure out on your own, and therefore arguably this entire footnote is a massive spoiler.

Final Fantasy II

Sixteen years ago, somehow, I played Final Fantasy for the first time, with my only previous JRPG experiences having been an abiding love for Dragon Warrior, deep amusement at Secret of Mana, and unremitting loathing for Final Fantasy VII. You’ll note, if you clicked through, that I had evinced an intention to continue playing the remainder of the Final Fantasy oeuvre. Believe it or not, that was actually true, and I really have been playing Final Fantasy II on and off for all of those many years since[1].

The main difference between the first and second game is that where the first game used “save the world!” as an excuse to string together a lot of random encounters in the world and in various dungeons wherein you could level up and get better equipment and better spells, allowing you to fight harder random encounters and dungeons… In the second game, all of those actions are strung together by an actual plot, with actual characters. I mean, plot and characters as imagined through the lens of the 1980s, but it’s actually there.

I’ll go a step farther, and say that the plot, although largely on rails, feels as if it is reacting to the actions of the characters. Which is impressive! There are three main characters, teenaged friends who get caught up in events, and a floating fourth character, who you are supposed to become attached to but who I largely viewed as a tool who occasionally stole my equipment by leaving the party without warning in any number of various ways.

That said, the game still punishes you for playing a game that old by having bizarrely restrictive spell and items capacities and random bugs that make the nominally most powerful spell in the game be functionally useless. Nevertheless, it was a good game. I mean, if you’re okay with mindlessly wandering the world having random encounters between various dungeons that advance the plot, but that’s just what a JRPG is, you know? (But Dragon Warrior was still better. For one thing, no goddamned chocobos.)

In case you’re wondering if I will play Final Fantasy III: I’ve started it already. (This proves nothing, of course.)

[1] Although I restarted at one point post-2014, switching platforms from DS back to Playstation[2]. (Well, PS2, since manufacturers once upon a time understood backward compatibility.)
[2] Because it’s harder to play a game together on a tiny-ass DS screen[s].

The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year

I cannot decide whether it’s weirder to be reading non-fiction, or to be reading a book gradually over the course of a year. Both are pretty weird! Like, maybe histories would be less weird? History is just non-fiction with a plot and a throughline. Although I guess a book about what to expect over the course of a year of childhood growth is almost that too? But histories have characters, which this does not, super-disgusting anecdotes about mistaken pumpkin puree notwithstanding.

As you may have guessed by this point in the review, my son is nearing a year old. And thusly I have been reading on a (mostly) month ahead basis, the first of Armin Brott’s New Father trilogy(?), wherein I learn what to do over the course of a year.

You are now asking yourself two questions. And the answer to the first is that it’s a helpful book in the same ways that the pregnancy book was. Not quite as helpful, and my uninformed speculation from a non-female perspective as to why is that there are more different types of kids than there are types of pregnancies. Or maybe I’m just more invested in how closely he hews to the baby averages than I was in how closely we hewed to the pregnancy averages? Also feasible.

The answer to the second question is that I have done at best a mediocre job following the presented advice. I’m about as bad at money with him as I am at money with me. We play, but I never really wrestle with him, which came up a lot in the book? I don’t really understand how to wrestle with someone that small, to be honest. I feel like he’s been consistently months ahead on the physical scale[1] and on the manipulation scale[2], but maybe farther behind than I want him to be on the verbal scale? Like, this “you’ve made it through a year” chapter I just read, which to be fair is still four weeks away, expects him to be able to point at his body parts when we tell him to, and I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to get him to know all his body parts before reading that. Which as we all know means I’m objectively a bad father. He might be able to say two words by now, but then again maybe not, and is expected to have a six plus word vocabulary in the aforementioned four weeks. Maybe he will! Or maybe I’m, again, objectively bad at this.

I’m 95% not serious about my reactions, but this also goes back to my “more invested” thing from before. Because the goal of the pregnancy book was to end up with a baby, which is pretty much a binary outcome. Whereas the goal of this book (and the subsequent ones I presume) is to make the existing infant into a good human who can successfully navigate the world. That is, uh, non-binary, you know? It is open-ended. Which means that yeah, any moment where he’s not on target or better is a moment for me to feel bad about myself. So that’s great.

For no fault of the book’s own, I’m not sure whether I want the sequel. Probably should, though? It is almost certainly better to use and resent the map than to kick it in the creek.[3]

[1] Rolling over, standing, walking, etc. Gross body movements. (As opposed to fine.)
[2] Ha ha, but no. Here I mean fine body movements (as opposed to gross), like unscrewing lids, putting objects in holes, etc.
[3] I’ve made myself sad, as that reference was more or less for one person, who isn’t alive to see it. Or the kid.

Those Who Wish Me Dead

Warner Bros.’ simultaneous release schedule between theaters and HBOMax is good for seeing new movies and not getting Covid, as everyone knows. But what you may not know is that it’s also good for seeing movies that you would have never quite convinced yourself to make it to the theater to see, and then have forgotten to look for by the time they finally released to a streaming service.

The upshot of this is that, while aspirationally looking for a movie showing in a theater that we might go see on a date night soon, I spotted Those Who Wish Me Dead. Which looked pretty interesting, but not “find a babysitter and pick a theater and make an evening of it” interesting. Except… simultaneous release!

It turns out that a movie about people on the run because they know the key details of a nebulous conspiracy that goes you can probably guess how near the top, who run into guilt-stricken Montanan fire watchers named Angelina Jolie and also her survivalist pals just as paid assassins and a giant fire are closing in, is interesting enough to put the kid to bed, pop some popcorn, and turn on the TV.

After having watched the movie, I stand by that assessment, but I’m not going to claim that it skyrocketed past the threshold I have described. I do not regret my time, in other words, but I am also not going to start proselytizing here. It was fine, plus a brief bout of entirely gratuitous lightning, which was in no way necessary to the plot.

Fairest in All the Land

The last Fables story was also a Fairest story, I guess? Also, the last actual Fables story was kind of a big deal, with repercussions still echoing around the margins. (These are the margins, since this wasn’t a main sequence story, you see.) Downside being, I read that a year and a half ago and only barely remember what happened. Which beats not remembering at all, don’t get me wrong!

Anyway, echoing repercussions aside, Fairest in All the Land is a murder mystery in which a certain mirror that may be evoked by that phrase and Cinderella (who has previously been the star of her own Fables spin-off spy series) square off against… and here we run into a wall called What Exactly Do You Think a Murder Mystery Is, Anyway? But the victims are a who’s who of, er, the fairest… in all… you know what, I’m going to pretend like I didn’t just get that reference.

Plot and plot arcs aside, this book was weird. It’s not that every story segment was drawn and colored by different artists. It’s that the story segments on average lasted three pages each, which… it’s just too many hard corners, is the thing. Whiplash, I’m saying. But the plot was fine, as was the plot arc progression. (And whoever was the artist for the bits that included the Page sisters is good at drawing the Page sisters. Sexy librarians equals best trope.)

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019)

Two milestones! Surprisingly to me, I’ve never finished a Switch game before. Like, I kind of finished the Mario game from one perspective, but from another I was barely halfway through it. Regardless, no review! So, oops. (Or not. It’s hard to know.) But also, I’ve never played a game that required specifying a year for version control. Link’s Awakening has had three versions, two on various GamesBoy in the ’90s, plus this one on the Switch.

As for what it is, it’s a mostly 2D game[1] set at a 3D angle, a la Link to the Past[2], where you[3] have shipwrecked onto a small island where nobody has heard of the concept of an outside world, where there’s a giant egg housing a Wind Fish (whatever that is), and where (surprise!) the monsters have started getting restless just lately. Also, the art is an adorably almost claymation thing, and every time I paused to actually look at it, it just… made me happy. You know?

There’s item / powerup collection, there’s dungeons, there’s secrets (not all of which I found)… it’s a Zelda game, is what I’m saying, and those are good on their own merits in the vast majority of instances. On top of that, there’s a surprisingly emotional core to the thing, where the act of playing the game as intended leaves you wondering whether you should do so. I dug it.

Also, weirdly, I played the whole game handheld. Bad for my neck, good for my ability to actually finish. This is a problematic realization, to be clear. Especially if you happen to be my neck.

[1] You can jump and dive, so it’s 2D with an extra two layers beyond the one you mostly exist in? Approximately.
[2] Arguably the best Zelda game ever made, Breath of the Wild notwithstanding. Inarguably the best 2D Zelda game ever made.
[3] by which I mean Link, the boy in the green tunic who acquired his first sword under, at best, suspicious circumstances

Later

Cart before the horse time: surprise! I liked the new Stephen King book.

Later is, as the title mildly hints, a book about the way the present informs (or to be more precise reframes) the past. Which I found to be a clever composition, since everyone and their brother will tell you about how the past informs the present, while the other direction is not half so well-trodden of a theme. It is also a terribly modern coming of age story, which is also a crime story (not a spoiler, since the publishing company is Hard Case Crime), which is also a horror story (not a spoiler, because the narrator not-quite smugly informs the reader of this in the opening moments of the book).

That King manages to juggle all of these to good effect is a testament to the timelessness of his own voice (or to the fact that I’m old enough to not notice how out of touch he is) and to the fact that he has long since transcended mere genre concerns. But mostly it’s a testament to the fact that his ability to spin a good yarn is undiminished. After all, you can mash together as many types of stories into one yarn as you want to, if you spin it well enough.

Also, it is uncharacteristically short, so I’m glad he can still do that.

Godzilla vs. Kong

After three previous movies, one of which I didn’t see, the second of which I liked pretty well[1], and the third of which I liked less, since it was so closely related to that first movie I never saw… after all those movies, it was inevitable that I would eventually see the capstone movie where the two main titans clash it out[2].

So yes, I saw Godzilla vs. Kong (at home, even though we’re seemingly in the home stretch), and yes, I liked it, because y’know… monster fights! But I didn’t love it, because of how I spotted basically the entire plot within the first ten minutes, and also because of a spoiler regarding characters[3]. But the set pieces were pretty great, and the monster fights!, and did I mention footnote one?

I think it’s because I like to root for the underdog, and, despite physical appearances, that’s who Kong has always been, in every role he’s garnered.

[1] But then, I’ve always liked Kong movies
[2] To be fair, I like Godzilla movies okay too, even if I did miss that one somehow.
[3] See footnote four, below the cut[4]

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Slaves Unchained

I started reviewing things here in September of 2004. The first two books of the Slave Trade trilogy were published in 2003, and Slaves Unchained was released in early 2005. My lack of reviews on the prior books indicates that I definitely read them in earlier 2004, and then just never moved on to the third one. But I’ve got this stack of old books I’m trying to get through, and so…

The problem with a trilogy whose first two entries I read 25 years ago[1] is, well, a) I barely remember why I read them in the first place[2], and b) I even more barely remember the plot. Which is why I went looking for my previous reviews in the first place and discovered that they just missed the temporal cut. Too bad for me.

What I know is: humans are treasured as pleasure slaves by the other species of the galaxy, because those other species cannot have sex outside procreative imperative, but humans can. And I know that a bunch of said human characters found a way to rebel and escape from their imprisonment, with the occasional help of sympathetic aliens, who are all involved in a two or three way war with some of each other. Not a lot to go on, but of course this third book was written with people who had not read the prior books in 25 years in mind, so… haha no.

Basically I stumbled from chapter to chapter following subplots that matched my memory, subplots that were destined to eventually tie into the plots I remembered, and subplots that seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the book, only to crash headlong into an ending that was extremely open, but which has never been followed up upon.

Was it good? I legitimately have no idea[3]. Was it good enough to reread the first two books and form a real opinion? It was not.

[1] More than half my life!, at least for now.
[2] I believe they were recommended by Lara Beaton as having been written by her sister-in-law. No doubt she will immediately appear to correct me if I have this wrong. No doubt whatsoever.
[3] Notably, it was not actively bad. It was also not especially erotica, despite what the cover would have you believe. I dimly think the first two books were? But this one, huh-uh.