Circle Thrice

Nearly a year since the last Deathlands. Oops? But between a global pandemic and a new son, I’ve had things going on. …boy howdy. Things.

Circle Thrice is a weird book, even by the standards of the series so far. For one thing, it’s highly episodic. Except for the fact that our post-apocalyptic teleporting companions are not literally on the Mississippi River (it’s the Tennessee instead), the first two thirds of the story remind me a lot of Huckleberry Finn. Because there they go, downriver[1] on a raft, running into various weird people and situations[2] without very much fear of consequence, because, as you know by now, our heroes are very well-armed and other people generally are not. It’s a peaceful interlude, if you correct for mutant death around every corner.

Later, in the last third, we get to a more typical “heroes run into a baron who may not have their best interests in mind and/or former enemy makes a new appearance” situation, and that part is fine as well. I guess a thing I like about these books is that, 32 volumes in, they are simultaneously comfort food and something I’ve never read before. It’s not like I’m getting bored, clearly. Probably because they still keep me guessing with things like the first two aforementioned thirds, and with things like wondering if that wound that keeps being mentioned and which keeps not getting resolved is going to turn into a really big deal major character death or in fact is just an oops, need to stretch more and maybe take it easy for a day or so. It’s nice to not know for sure, instead of seeing it coming from miles away.

Also, though, the book title? It feels like a religious or especially pagan religious reference, right? No idea if it is one, my briefest of googles tells me not especially, but man it sounds like it. Also, it doesn’t mean a single thing relative to the story being told. Nothing. Pick any other random imperative verb and slightly archaic modifier, and it would fit equally well here.

So that’s weird.

[1] Did Huck and Jim go upriver? Because on the one hand, how do you stop being a slave by going farther south? But on the other hand, raft + river rarely results in an upriver trip. How is this the first time I’m asking myself this question?
[2] Villagers who have a raft that needs stealing. Non-consensual BDSM priest. Tour of the Civil War battlefield of Shiloh. Graceland[3]. Rabid villagers (not the same ones as the ones with the raft).
[3] Look. I’m not saying it’s on the Tennessee River. I’m not even saying the writer is saying that. It’s just another episodic thing that happened. They don’t all have to tie directly to the raft, okay?

Donut County

The thing about Donut County is, it’s barely a game at all[1].

But if you can get past that, it’s pretty fun and funny. It’s approximately a knockoff of Katamari Damacy, but instead of rolling things up, you are a hole in the ground, and you are swallowing said things. Donut County is a county somewhere near alternate Los Angeles I guess?, inhabited by all manner of sentient animals and also for some reason this one girl. The only problem is that everyone and everything keeps disappearing into holes in the ground.

Who could be causing this? And why? And will you ever get to fly the sweet quadcopter that you can unlock if you reach level 10?

Anyway: as two hour games go, I definitely got my money and time investment’s worth.

[1] This is not entirely true. The last third adds more game elements, such that by the end, there’s some game there.

Battle Ground

I have logistical thoughts about Battle Ground. Because it’s obvious that this and Peace Talks are in fact one book. Sure, there are one or two structural plot elements to make them feel like they are each a whole book, and that’s a good thing; but if you rearrange those or ditch the plot elements leading to them, you don’t hurt the overall story of the proposed single book. But man would it have been an enormous book, you know?

All that to say, a three month gap between these books is not bad at all[1], so I’m not complaining exactly, but the delay to get here was… also not insane, but it was large, and what I’m really saying is it reminds me of George RR Martin’s scenario writ in miniature, except you’ll note that after his split in two single book, he never wrote anything else again. So I’m concerned, is the thing.

But back to this actual book. This is a title that delivers. I mean, I guess they both are? Peace Talks was easily 80 percent or more a book about all of the Accorded Nations getting together to hash out a peace, while they could[2]. And Battle Ground is about the moment when that ticking clock has run out. So if what you are looking for from this book is an all out war between Dresden and allies vs the bad guys de l’année, I can assure you that you will get it.

And while you’re getting that, you’ll also get a great deal of broader plot events and character development moments. From all kinds of characters and all kinds of plot directions. This is a legitimately huge book in the greater sequence of the Dresden Files series, and I’m still all wrapped up in it. I know people have turned away from these over the past decade, but for my money, it’s still a very solid piece of story-telling, and I will continue to find out what happens next for as long as I’m able.

More below the footnotes + cut, to be considered at least mild spoiler territory, mostly for the series rather than the book.

[1] Especially at the rate I’ve been reading this year, which is to say that my three new summer books took me basically two thirds of a year. Look, things are and have been weird.
[2] Some of them, it occurs to me, with vastly more hypocrisy than others.

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The Room (2019)

The Room grew on me, both over the course of the movie and possibly in retrospect over the last few days since I watched it as well. The premise at first appears to be a pretty by-the-numbers riff on the monkey’s paw. A couple moves into a stately, remote farmhouse and while doing renovations finds a secret room, which they quickly (if a little implausibly) learn grants wishes. Wish for something in the room, poof, it appears. Then, for a good 10-15 minutes, the whole movies appears to be about to collapse into a Lynchian commentary on bored American decadence[1], but before this can happen, someone wishes for the kind of thing that you maybe shouldn’t ought to wish for.

And then, mere moments later by the plot clock, the terrible rules of how wishes in the room work are finally revealed, and what follows is a slow burn escalation of bad decisions and impossible choices.

I’m carefully staying away from spoilers (unlike imdb’s three sentence description), because I think that not knowing what was coming is the majority of what makes the movie work. But outside of the identity horror and other bad things that the writer went for, I think the real lesson of the movie is that if I had a wishing room that followed these rules… Sure, I wouldn’t be able to instantly and safely retire[2], but I’m pretty sure I could make a happy and comfortable life for myself without very many needs to be met.

Because I would not make terrible, obviously doomed to turn out badly wishes. That’s why.

[1] Not that any of the characters are American, going by accent. But it definitely has that jaded feel, in the moment.
[2] The IRS alone, you know?

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

After recently rewatching the other two Narnia movies[1], I have now proceeded to watch for the first time The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This was one of young me’s favorite books, in retrospect because of how it involves episodic exploration of unknown parts in which random events occur. Examples: captured for slavery! found invisible monsters with weird tracks! cursed dragon hoard!

And I guess what I think is, without a cohesive throughline, that’s a bad look for a movie? Because “we’re sailing to the edge of the world and also looking for some lords who went this way before, because of some plot thing or other with green mist that frankly none of us[2] can be bothered to really remember well” is not a cohesive throughline. But it’s a perfect long-form episodic throughline, where you talk about the so-called main plot for maybe five minutes every other episode but mainly focus on the island of the week.

As far as the nuts and bolts of the movie… Aslan: mainly around to tell Lucy she should like herself for herself instead of wanting to be glamorous and older, and to take all the credit for making Eustace[3] a better person, even though let’s be real, it was finally having a friend that turned him around. Because Reepicheep is the best mouse, is what. But despite an interlude about heaven and who deserves to be there and when, the Christian trappings of this movie were… no, I’m doing this wrong. Christian trappings were all over the place, but at the expense of any actually useful Jesus values like forgiveness and loving your neighbor.

Ugh. Christian trappings. Goddammit.[4]

[1] They’re… not great. Like, my reviews might speak well of them? My counterpoint is “seeing this book for the first time on a screen” is its own special thing that takes away from noticing that it’s still only okay. And here I refer only to the first one. The second one is nowhere near as good as that.
[2] Okay, maybe me more than them. I would normally here say, well, maybe I was just too busy with work to pay attention. But I watch really a lot of TV and a good number of movies while working, and actually keeping up with the main plot has never been a problem before. So there’s a decent chance that the lack of new sequel was for a good reason.
[3] Eustace is a Pevensie cousin who is a right twit, until later when he is improved by the power of Narnia. If Aslan wanted to teach a Pevensie a lesson, it should have been teaching Edmund that, you know what, you were a right twit once upon a time too, so maybe cut a bro some slack? But CS Lewis is more offended by girls who want to use make-up and date than he is by toxic masculinity, and so here we are.
[4] get it

Wonder Woman 1984

So, I got HBOMax, finally. This is good, as there are a pile of shows I want to watch, and bad, as where will I find the time? But the tipping point, of course, was the release of WW84[1]. If you are looking for a comics movie that leans really hard into the four-color aesthetic and into being a comics movie, look no farther!

I said (unless someone else did, but I’m pretty sure I did too) that Into the Spiderverse was the first movie I’d seen that felt like reading a comic, and that is still true.  Nevertheless, there have been plenty of MCU movies that lean really hard into both the comics aesthetic (anything with Thor) and comics sensibilities (anything with Peter Quill). But this is the first DC movie I’ve seen that did so.

It’s not that the plot didn’t make sense, like I’ve heard plenty of people claim. It hung together quite well, start to finish, with only one big complaint on my part[2]. But everything that happens relies of accepting that the logic of comic books is not the logic of the real world. Things happen that are not really magic, which is what a lot of people rely upon to suspend disbelief; instead things happen that rely on accepting that comics science is not the same as our science (much less when you mix science and magic together!), and that is maybe a harder proposition.

In a nutshell: what if we fast forward Diana to, say, the ’80s, where she is working at the Smithsonian on the strength of her knowledge of artifacts and like 130 languages (living and dead), and also she still isn’t over Steve Trevor yet 70 years later? And then she runs into a magic rock at the same time that a mousy new co-worker and an oil tycoon with a secret also run into said magic rock? And then the writers lay down a righteous comic book plot over these facts, with nary a care in the world for if it could even mildly happen or be fixable back to some kind of status quo that allows her to show up in Dawn of Justice even if it could happen in the first place?

In the end, that kind of thing either makes you want to punch some writers, or it’s your bread and butter. It wasn’t particularly good, but it was pretty damned amazing.

[1] Weird thing, with weird corollary. The movie is never referenced in any way besides WW84, at the start and end. Likewise, Diana Prince has never been referenced as Wonder Woman in either of these movies. Was she in her other DCCU appearances? I have literally no way of knowing!
[2] And that was more science-based than plot. Technically a spoiler: if you are going to electrocute someone for something, then you have to electrocute them for doing something equally electrocutable 30 seconds earlier, or else you don’t get to electrocute them now! Consistency, that’s all.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

It’s not uncanny valley levels of weird, but it is nevertheless weird to see digital animation versions of real actors that you are already very familiar with. To wit, Cal Kestis, who is played by the Joker from Gotham and one of the Gallagher kids on Shameless. And he’s, like, just extremely recognizable, both character and voice. And in Jedi: Fallen Order[1], I’m controlling his jumps and pushes and lightsaber swings, and it’s weird, is what, in a way that a random character would not have been at all.

The game itself is… fine? As has been said by others elsewhere, it’s basically a modern Tomb Raider ripoff, but without that part of the gameplay being as polished. Tradeoffs are that the Force skills parts are in fact pretty cool, and that the plot eventually slides from generic to compelling, somewhere between the halfway and two-thirds point.

If you feel like those tradeoffs (especially the second one) aren’t good enough to make up for the initial complaint, well, I will not try to convince you otherwise. Even for me, as happy as I was to be doing a new Star Wars game for the first time in forever, I occasionally wondered if it would really kill the high and mighty Jedi to pick up a blaster sometimes, instead of fighting through another four or six hand to hand storm troopers.

But the Force skills are pretty cool, except when your Force meter runs out and you can’t use them anymore. And except for wishing you had access to them for the whole game, instead of only starting to get to the good stuff right at the end. (But that’s a problem with all games of this type. See also Ezio re-learning how to be an assassin in two sequels.)

[1] which EA would like to helpfully remind you is a Star Wars property, no matter how awkward it makes the title of the game

The Turing Test

Because I am extremely timely, have another review of a game that’s leaving Game Pass today! The Turing Test is a sci-fi puzzle game[1] in which Ava Turing wakes up from cryosleep above Europa and is tasked by her AI companion, TOM, to go to the surface and find out why communication from the crew has ceased. Not as in “why aren’t they answering anymore” (although that too), as in “why is the communication link down?”

Upon arrival, however, the mystery deepens when the rooms of the base have been repurposed into puzzles that require creative solutions to proceed deeper, apparently to keep someone (or something?) out. Whereupon follows 77 rooms’ worth of puzzles combined with an ongoing discussion between Ava and TOM on the nature of consciousness plus occasional clues as to what happened down there.

The puzzles are very occasionally ridiculous, but mostly the right amount of difficult[2]. The plot is deeper and ultimately stronger than I gave it credit for. On the whole? Pretty impressive game; recommended, even.

[1] If you’re thinking “poor man’s Portal“, well, that’s a fair comparison. Happily, there’s a lot of room to go downhill from Portal and still have an enjoyable and plot-dense experience.
[2] Well, for me at least, and not counting the rooms that were extra simple, just to teach you new rules.

Red Christmas (2016)

Red Christmas is an Australian horror movie which, with the numbers filed off, is a fairly decent flick. Family gathering for Christmas Day, except a weird guy in bandages and a black hooded cloak shows up to settle some history with Dee Wallace[1], with the result being blood and gore and, you know, the various types of things that would make your Christmas red. (It sure wasn’t going to be white! Australia, remember.)

Unfortunately, the numbers are not filed off, and I have not been this unhappy with the premise of a movie since Snowpiercer. Said premise, which you cannot help but be aware of if you watch the first bit of the movie interspersed with the credits, is that the mysterious stranger is in fact an aborted fetus who survived. The implicit lie already had me on edge, but then the rest of the movie, despite making a valiant effort by naming this character Cletus, leaned into the “storytelling possibilities” by making it horror mashed up with family drama, instead of just horror, and offensive family drama based on a pure falsehood of a premise is just… I’m still pissed, is what.

This is a terrible movie that should feel bad and no longer have its rights sold. Shame on you, Shudder + AMC.

[1] Unlike most times when I see Dee Wallace’s name somewhere, this really is the lady who played the mom on ET, instead of secretly being Dee Snider instead, who did not.

Untitled Goose Game

I’ve been vaguely aware of Untitled Goose Game for some time, in the sense of, oh, hey, someone made another game like Goat Simulator, but for geese. Which sounded, you know, fine. At the same time, even though GS is on Game Pass, I have not really been itching to give it another try and finish this time, for whatever reason. Maybe I’m wrong? UGG is what was going to convince me I was wrong, if anything would.

So you’re this goose, right? Or, these geese, if you play multiplayer, as I did[1]. And you have a to-do list, some of which are things that might be fun for you and mostly harmless, but which really seem to annoy the humans around you, while others are, uh, pretty clearly designed to annoy the humans around you with no other particular benefit, except that it’s funny. Eventually your to-do list has an event that causes a new area (with a new to-do list!) to be unlocked. And so on, until you finish the game. Some of the bits are complicated to figure out, while others are complicated to execute, but it’s mostly a light puzzle game that you can breeze through in a few hours.

Which Mary and I did on Friday night, including the list of bonus to-do’s you can accomplish[2], some of which don’t even make sense to try until you’ve won once. And almost all of which are just purely mean, meaner than most of the previous mean things you’ve already done. …I did mention this is a game about geese, right?

Near the end of the night came the cruelest goose trick of all: even though we were both logged in on our accounts, Mary was not getting any of the achievements credited to her gamer score. This was especially painful because she was the one who wanted to cross off all the extra items in the first place; I had already been satisfied.

But I mean, it also ended up being fun, which is much better than if it had been grinding for points.

[1] Multiplayer is mildly annoying in that the screen only gets so big, so the geese have to stay together and can maybe get each other stuck. We played on a shared screen, but I assume that the same limitations apply to a remote multiplayer game. I also assume that remote multiplayer even exists.
[2] And not including the speed runs, which are all we left undone. I understand intellectually that some people are really into speed runs, but ain’t nobody got time for that.