Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Dragon Reborn

It occurs to me that every review after this one will be much harder. Because, see, The Dragon Reborn has a cohesive storyline that weaves its way apart and back together again, although arguably Perrin is barely involved in the climactic action, or for that matter any of the rest of the events, which mostly bring everyone together via traps and/or the whims of fate, and meanwhile Perrin is only being dragged along by Moiraine while causing ripples that will have future rather than current consequences. So I suppose I’ve just made a liar of myself, and the truth is that Jordan was already starting to drift away from everyone being a part of the same grand plan for a book’s arc.

But all the same, this is the last time that was even mostly true, and so it’s still noteworthy. Because Rand is… so, here’s a thing people talk about, why he seems so much crazier in this book as though the taint of saidin was ravaging him, then Jordan took stock and realized how much time was left and kind of backed off that plan for a while. Also, this may be a good time to mention that I’m still not caring about spoilers yet. Good? Good. So anyway, that’s a valid stance to take, authorial error. Whether it is such and I’m being apologist or not, I still think the text, especially the preceding events in the overall story, support another explanation. Which is, Rand is experiencing actual regular psychological trauma based on having just had a prophetic fight in the skies above Falme, taking a magical unhealable wound during said fight, being praised by everyone around him as the savior / destroyer of the world, and still not even being able to control the power he’s supposed to use to do whichever of those things turns out to be accurate. My point being, you don’t need magic evil to explain why he might have experienced a temporary break with reality that reset itself once all his doubts had been erased. Sure, he ended up with the crappy end of the bargain, but at least it was no longer just sitting there, unknown and unknowable. “Am I really really the Dragon? Fine, let’s get to work, then.”

I, uh, may have gotten ahead of myself there. So, anyway, you have Rand running off to fulfill the one part of the Prophecies of the Dragon he knows about, just so he can be once and for all sure instead of awaiting Moiraine’s pleasure. And you have Moiraine vexedly following, never so angry before or since at her own inability to to make it happen the way she wants to, and you have our three Aes Sedai in training headed off to spring a trap so it won’t get Rand instead, even though they know that’s probably why they know about it in the first place, and most of all you have Mat finally getting to be Mat, which is nice because I will like him for the whole rest of the series, except for the book he’s not in and the book where his voice is wrong, but it’s better than disliking him, which I have had to do now and again.

And this is me considering the reviews still pretty easy. Oy. The one bright side of reviewing books I’ve read lots of times and that furthermore almost everyone reading the review has read lots of times as well is that nobody has much in the way of expectations. Oh, also, Egwene? Totally binty. I wonder if this is objectively true or more a function of me liking Nynaeve so much better in my old age. I think it’s an objective truth that is undercut by her eventually growing into what she wrongly thought she already deserved in this book. Alright, I’m done. The next one may be a while in coming.

Mass Effect 2

Remember when Shepard, um… yeah, okay, neither do I. I know she did something to learn about the history of the Protheans and the present of the Reapers, and repelled an initial foray into “the destruction of life as we know it”, but that’s about all I remember. Because I played Mass Effect way too long ago. To give you an idea of how long ago, I didn’t finish playing Mass Effect 2[1] until after the majority of people I know who like video games had finished Mass Effect 3.

But I did. And it turns out that knowing why the Citadel was attacked and what that means to the next few years of “life as we know it” isn’t so relevant when compared to politics, especially if new players in the galaxy (called by people who are watching history The Collectors because of their habit of gathering up entire populations and leaving through a mass effect relay nobody else has ever returned from in recorded history) kill you before people get a chance to decide if they consider you a hero for sure or not. Although martyrdom is nice for the hero image, don’t get me wrong.

But it’s cool, because Shepard is back a couple of years later (you can’t keep a good hero down apparently, especially when she has the financial backing of her biggest political enemy behind her) to figure out what happened to her and what is about to happen to everyone else, with new allies at her side (and a selection of the best old allies, including Tali, without whom the galaxy basically seems not worth inhabiting). If you liked the first game, you’ll like this one. If you didn’t like the first game, it is either a) because you are a bad person or b) because you hated the inventory system. That has been fixed, and all that is left to worry about is the exploration of uninhabited planets, which is not bad per se as long as you don’t give yourself the mistaken impression that you should ever explore them in advance beyond your needs. Because there are way more planets rich in resources than you will ever need to probe.

And if there are unexplored planets that have plot relevance but are not announced except by looking for them? That is a fault of the designer, not the reviewer.

[1] Technically, I still haven’t finished, as there are monetary DLC that seem worthwhile. But it feels close enough for review work.

The Dark Knight Rises

I hate it when I have to review something that I want to reveal basically nothing about. Okay, let’s start with premise, that’s always safe ground. The Dark Knight Rises is set some eight or ten years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman has not been seen in all this time, after having been branded a public enemy for his alleged murder of district attorney Harvey Dent. On top of that, Bruce Wayne hasn’t been seen much more often, which hasn’t exactly spelt sunshine and puppies for his various financial holdings and charities. And then, of course, something intriguing happens and something terrible happens, and our various characters are suddenly knocked out of their stasis.

Okay, and that’s enough. As with my previous review, there’s nothing in there that doesn’t happen in the first fifteen minutes or so. I will say only a couple of more words before I send you on your way to the theater, unless you are wiser and more appropriately unbusy than I. Although the first one is a little bit of a story: someday, I may choose to re-read a series I first caught as a young teen, Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. People have left me with the impression that I may fail catastrophically, but I’m interested to see how it goes, so I may. Anyway, the point is that as the second trilogy opens, Thomas Covenant, storied “hero” of a faraway, possibly hallucinatory land, has a terrible life. Sure, he may have defeated some dark lord or other, but back on earth he’s still a miserable leper. And one of his foes has an opinion on how to strike out at him that has always stuck with me. “What do you do to hurt the man who has lost everything? Give him something back, broken.”

It seems to me that Christopher Nolan has taken that advice to heart here. He doesn’t give Bruce Wayne something back broken so much as he gives him everything back broken, starting with his body, continuing right through his city, and stopping…. well, in theory, nowhere. You’ll have to see for yourself, of course. While this singular focus leaves me with an impression that some pieces of the plot are contrived, none were so glaringly contrived as to detract from my overall enjoyment. Plus, he made that bleakness up to the audience by also giving us the second thing I had wanted to mention, Anne Hathaway in a leather catsuit.

The Great Hunt

So then Rand got this idea about running off and living a hermit’s life in the middle of nowhere, one of very many middles of nowhere scattered throughout the continent because of how humanity is on a long gradual decline ever since the Breaking of the World, some 3500 years ago. This? This is why we don’t drill holes into the Dark One’s prison. Anyway, Rand’s idea made a lot of sense, because in the middle of nowhere he could not kill all his friends nor be gentled by Aes Sedai. The only downside is that, being the Dragon Reborn, he would also fail to save the world, which is probably worse than those other two outcomes. So naturally the plot ta’veren strikes in the form of creepy little Padan Fain stealing the Horn of Valere and riding into the sunset with it, right before Rand could have snuck off into obscurity. Et voila, a book.

This may leave you with the impression that I am meh on The Great Hunt, and really I’m not. (Truth be told, I expect to be meh on few if any of these books when read in one desperate gulp as I am doing. I’ve long had a theory that the problem with the books was two-fold: 1) far more repetition than non-casual readers need, and admittedly the huge gulp will eventually make that a trial, yes, and 2) too much space between books in which not enough happens, whereas the gulp will make that vanish entirely because over the course of the whole series, yep, quite a lot happens. Sure, there are other problems, but I think those are the two biggest ones. If I’m right, even a book that should be far more annoying upon re-read than the first time when I didn’t even know what to expect will also probably seem fine, and much moreso an old standby of basically good like the one from which I have just digressed broadly.) It’s just that I don’t have a lot to say, and even less to sum up, so that’s where my brain went.

It occurs to me that I possibly shouldn’t like this book, just because of the role it plays. The Eye of the World set up the central conflicts of the story, between Rand and Ishamael, between Rand and Fain, between Rand and his destiny, and of course between the entire world and the Dark One. Whereas this book sets up the some of the biggest distractions from those conflicts with the introduction of the horrible and functionally irredeemable Seanchan society and Rand’s debilitating, messianic spear wound. Plus, it introduces someone who should by rights have been an interesting distraction in the form of Lanfear, the original Dragon groupie, only to squander her before the series was even half over. I wonder if her character arc would have made more sense in a much shorter series. That said, her attempts at seduction (both the sexual kind and the “dark side of the Force” kind) were awfully clumsy here, and I wonder if that was about Jordan or about her character?

Am I rambling? Yes, yes I am. So let me leave you with this. Remember that time when they went through the Portal Stone and something went wrong and they each of them in the group lived the entirety of somewhere between hundreds to maybe infinite lifetimes? If you do not, then it is because you’re not aware that I am wildly unconcerned with spoilers for these early books, even though I announced it in front of the previous review. So that probably sucks by now, huh? Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted, I was making a point. Sure, Jordan described each lifetime in just a few paragraphs, but they were still entire lifetimes. How horrible is it to imagine that you could be a person in the midst of some kind of scientific-magic overload, a dim reflection of someone’s incorrect fate, granted the entire lifetime that everyone gets, yes, but eventually doomed to be only a fading memory punctuated by Elan Morin Tedronai laughing that, as always, he has won again and your faded reflection was an exercise in futility.

Say what you will about Robert Jordan, but the man could be incredibly evocative. Which reminds me that, as a devotee of the post-apocalyptic, I’m disappointed that the dimming light of humanity which persuaded Ingtar to sell his very soul[1] has kind of fallen away from the story. At least, my memory of the latter books is that the land is never so vastly empty as it is right now. Probably I’m wrong objectively and it only seems thus because of Travelling. But it was tragic and beautiful, and I miss it.

[1] What, you’re still here complaining about spoilers? Seriously? I thought I had made myself clear! (I’ll start trying to keep track of them somewhere in the book 7 range or so, I reckon.)