Monthly Archives: March 2013

Towers of Midnight revisited

Yeah, it’s fair to say that I really don’t know what I’m doing at this point. My previous review was right, and that covers almost anything non-spoilerish that I am able to say. It’s a big exciting brick of a book with very few flaws that aren’t related to my personal sadness with being so very near the end now. It sets up a big ending, it shows a world in as much turmoil as I think I’ve ever seen a world be in, and it leaves me as worried for the outcome as I have ever been in long-form fiction, which actually says quite a lot considering the decades of snickering about how no major character can ever die.

And you know what? The spoilers I would have discussed all come down to the second half of the previous sentence anyhow, so why bother with actually spelling out said spoilers at this point? So, to be clear: I haven’t read the last book yet, and so of course I might change my mind. But if it’s anything like this one, I’m going to be impressed with it. If it’s too much like this one, I might hate it, but not because of any lack of skill or care for the plot. (Man, it would be a hell of a thing if I discover after 20 years that the story Jordan has been telling is not actually the story I want to hear.)

The Gathering Storm revisited

You know, my experience reading The Gathering Storm has not been much different this time than last. Most everything was the same, but a little bit more muffled[1]. Egwene was every bit as cool and seemed less troublesomely preachy, Mat seemed less wrong, Rand was… well, okay, that’s a difference. I don’t precisely recall how I felt about him last time, but I know that this time all I felt was pity. And that’s really all I have to say about the things that happened in the book.

Yet the experience of reading it, that I have a bit more to natter on about. Every time I opened the book[2], I plunged ahead voraciously, for hours at a time. And I’m quite apt to do the same tomorrow as I continue the early chapters of this book’s second half. But every time I didn’t have it open, I would stare at it in trepidation, thinking about how little is left. (Well, also, the book was telling me that. I know I knew how bad things are in Randland, but it seems that watching it happen all in a row is actively horrifying. How do you defeat an enemy whose very existence is so antithetical to, well, everything, that reality fails the closer he gets? And, y’know, how did he get here and why does he exist in the first place? There are a lot of open questions to be addressed in the finale, is my point. But all of this is a digression.) And this is the essential tug-of-war I’m dealing with. I want to read something else. I want to be done. I want to know what happens. I want the false comfort of believing there will always be more of this story left to tell. I want to live in this book forever, just like I want to live in…. okay, at least a few other books that I love, anyway, just like I want to live in those ones forever. It doesn’t make sense, obviously, the logical conflict at least and probably the rest of it.

I guess my point is, I’m afraid of change.

Well, what else is new?

[1] I’m not sure how to describe what I mean. Maybe everything was a little less immediate instead. Probably all I’m saying is, “I knew what was going to happen, so there weren’t as many surprises”, but it doesn’t feel like I’m getting it right when I say that.
[2] Even more than the protection and the built-in light, what I think I appreciate most about my Kindle case is that act of flipping the cover open to read it. The touchstone to how books used to be is of great comfort to me, and not only because it gives me an excuse to make otherwise dishonest claims.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

The last thing I did lately was run through the most recent entry in the Modern Warfare trilogy. (You can see from the awkward construction of the previous sentence that I have no idea if it really was a trilogy or if I should expect more to come.) They have a clever thing in the opening credits where it starts as WW3 and then the first W flips to become an M (and their acronym). Because, you see, it picks up immediately after (or, really, probably a few moments before) the end of the second game, in which World War 3 has well and truly blossomed.

The other thing about Modern Warfare 3 is that it took me several minutes to recall just now exactly how it ended, and if said ending would actually count as a completed story sequence. The answer is yes, but my inability to immediately remember what happened a mere eight days after I finished the game tells the rest of the story of this review for me. It was a perfectly adequate game, identical in play to the previous volumes, but without quite the punch and edge-of-my-seatness the others had. Maybe it’s because I’m overly jaded. It was cool and shocking the first time a viewpoint character in the game died, but after three such games, they had taught me not to get attached to anyone, and it turns out that this may be a problem in a first-person game, the inability to be attached to your own damn eyes and ears.

But still, from a purely narrative point of view, yes, I am satisfied by the complete story told in these games. Not, ultimately, as satisfied as I was with the Halo series, but pretty satisfied indeed. Will I later play the Black Ops games as well? Just maybe! It’s nice to have a game I can start and finish over the course of one or two weekends.

Knife of Dreams revisited

There are some distinct differences in my opinions of Knife of Dreams between the last time I read it and today. Well, okay, more like “…and a week or two ago.” But still, the differences have stuck with me. All of them are down to my knowledge acquired between now and then, of course. The book certainly has not changed, but I have.

One change is a matter of expectations. I made some notes about Perrin’s character development that I stand by for now, because, sad as it seems, I really remember almost nothing about what happened in the next two books. Which is to say, books I’ve already read may have satisfied my complaints, and yet I wouldn’t know it. But except for that, a lot of things happened that, yep, my opinion has subtly shifted over the intervening seven years. I’ve already made the point several times, I think, over this reread that the two year gaps between each book harmed the flow of the story a great deal, in peoples’ perceptions at least. This time, that realization has unlocked another thought in my head, as to how Jordan uses prophecy and how a decade on rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan may have come between my understanding of the plotting of these books and the author’s actual intent. My example, which of course contains spoilers, will fall in a footnote[1] below the cut.

But the other change related to my knowledge of reality. See, a few years after the book came out, its author died. I am still grateful that there are more books to read and review, but knowing that this was the last book in the series entirely written by Robert Jordan of course changed the way I felt about it, this second time. For one thing, I’ve slowed down a lot again. Part of that, I’m sure, is because I’m also drawing near the end of the story, and I don’t want to leave. I know I’ve not wanted to leave stories before, but this is the most immersed I have ever been, and a brief depressive period is bound to follow. But so be it, I’m still just as grateful as I was  three sentences ago that it didn’t end in 2005, incomplete, as it might well have done.

Still, despite my sadness, there’s a last thing different between this book and all the others. It’s the first one I’ve only read twice (at least, in years upon years), and it was good to note that there were still a few scenes where my blood got pumping and my sense of wonder kicked up a notch and I was genuinely excited, even having a decent idea of the outcome, to see what would happen next. Because, despite some missteps, Jordan really was an incredible author, and I’m still sad that he’s gone. I hope I don’t forget that, now the story’s over and done. Because the original versions of the final entries in his series are not the only ones collected in Morpheus’ library of unwritten books.

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A Good Day to Die Hard

The other movie I’ve seen lately is the newest Die Hard. You may recall (or at the least, I do) that I really liked the last one. I am sad to say that I liked this one quite a lot less. But I have a good reason. I mean, I have easy reasons too. It’s all about the chases and the explosions and feels more soulless than most Die Hard movies have, and that would be the easy way out. But there are troubling plot and character failures that make me wonder if it’s possible to make another good sequel in this series.

So, each movie has escalated John McClane’s talent for surviving the wrong place at the wrong time. And that’s fair, as far as it goes. But… as of the last movie, he was escalated enough to do unbelievable things, because, as I said then, he didn’t really have a choice in the matter and he had the knowledge that not-quite-as-crazy things had worked before. The problem with A Good Day to Die Hard is that McClane, at this point, believes his own hype. The plot leads him to Moscow, to determine why his son stands accused of murder. So when he shows up, tall and proud and sure of his own importance, every inch the cowboy Alan Rickman once accused him of being and eager to be in the wrong place at the wrong time where before it had always been bad luck and fate, well, naturally he ruins all manner of secret spy plans that had been in place. And I’m okay with that, it’s fine drama!

Well. It’s fine drama if there are consequences to his actions. Instead, cleaning up the mess without any hint of an apology (or even a sense that he fucked things up in the first place) is the perfect father-son bonding activity. And this, in a nutshell, is my doubt about any possible continuance. You can make a movie with an overly prideful John McClane stumbling and having to get back to his feet. But John McClane the bull, smashing everything in the china shop and being greeted as the conquering hero upon his exit? That is not a metaphor I find myself perfectly comfortable with, after the past decade or so. But, political metaphor or not, the straightforward reading leaves him superhuman and undefeatable for the first time. Without some concern about the outcome, is it really worth watching?

John Dies at the End

You guys. I am so embarrassed about this right now, and it’s going to be probably the worst review ever, but… I’m like four reviews behind, and at this point I can no longer separate out John Dies at the End the movie from the book that spawned it. At least, not in a meaningful way that I would use to form a discussion about it. In a way, that’s good; I mean, it wasn’t so awful as to make me wonder why they made the movie at all. In another way, it’s certainly bad as it did not transcend its source.

No, you know what? That’s not bad by default, I’m completely wrong about that. It’s great when an adaptation sees into the heart of the source material and creates something new, that part is true. But there’s no shame in making people remember, giving vision to words on a page, and broadening the audience. Which is the thing about this one: I hadn’t read the book in (apparently) six years, so I didn’t remember a lot, but every time some new event occurred[1], it all came right back, and yeah, I can dig that.

The plot is sufficiently strange that I’m not sure it’s worth explaining, except I have a thing that depends upon you knowing a little. See, there’s this drug on the street called Soy Sauce, which gives its users the ability to see through the barriers of time and space. And, okay, that’s pretty awesome, except that some users die horribly or are attacked by the things they can see that nobody else can. Everything else is a spoiler, except you should know that David and John are the two people standing in the way of all of this certain doom.[2]

The point of all of this is that I learned a very important lesson. See, I saw the movie at the Texas Theatre, which is known solely for being where they caught Lee Harvey Oswald, y’know, later that day. It has been somewhat remodeled, and now includes a bar. And the bar had a special related to the movie of the hour, the Soy Sauce Shot. (Which generated the first of the flashback memories I mentioned earlier.) That’s all exciting and fun, right? So we went for it (Jez and I), and… so, um, it was vodka and soy sauce[3]. Cheap vodka. It…. it tasted about like you’d expect. My lesson, if it was not entirely clear, is this: don’t drink a shot made of cheap vodka and soy sauce.

[1] Prime example: the meat monster.
[2] Trust me, it would be certain doom. Also, you may recognize John’s name from somewhere, so I will elaborate that David is the narrator.
[3] The sauce, not the reality-altering drug.