Monthly Archives: January 2014

Knights of Badassdom

MV5BMTQ3ODEwMzY3NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTkwMTQ5MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_The only real problem with Knights of Badassdom is its lack of depth. What you see is exactly what you will get[1]. And even that’s not precisely a weakness, because at least it’s really, really easy to decide if it’s the kind of thing that you want to get.

Let me break it down for you, and then from there it’s your call whether you’d be interested. So, you know Peter Dinklage (Tyrion from TV’s Game of Thrones), Summer Glau (River Tam from TV’s The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and Anna Paquin’s brother from TV’s True Blood? They got together with a couple of other familiar faces and made a movie about LARPing[2]. No, that’s not right. They made the movie about LARPing that all LARPers have in their heads while they are LARPing. Yep, in the middle of a war event, one of the mages accidentally summons a real live demon from hell, who wreaks havoc amidst the goings on and gives someone a chance to convince Summer Glau that they might be worth boning.

If you are a LARPer and feel that I have misrepresented any particular of your own desired experience[3], I look forward to hearing about it!

[1] Caveat: the climax of the film is completely unpredictable. Not in a way that adds depth, alas, but it’s still nice to know they had an ace up their sleeve.
[2] If you don’t know what LARP is, you are not the movie’s target audience. Basically, it’s SCA crossed with D&D. If you don’t know what SCA and/or D&D are, you’re definitely not the movie’s target audience.
[3] …that you couldn’t correct by replacing Summer Glau with Nathan Fillion, that is.

The Republic of Thieves

51yQAM+bCqLSometimes, I think I’m the easiest audience in the world. (The easiest mark? Okay, probably not that, at least.) Which is not to imply that The Republic of Thieves was less than good. It’s just that if I’m not stumbling over myself to spout reason after reason why it was great, it may be that my desire to claim it is great, by simple fiat, may not be entirely fair of me.

I mean, yes, I love the characters, and that could be the root of it. “I care about these characters beyond all reason”, while also an exaggeration, still fits the bill for an express train to Loss of Objectivity Township[1]. And yes, the book gave me everything I could have wanted out of this particular sequel: the long-referenced Sabetha not only finally given life, but given life and strength of character[2] well above and beyond the pale, purposed only for a string of villains to gain leverage over Locke Lamora, farcical reflection of an actual person that she could have become in the hands of, say, a comic book author; more information abut the Bondsmagi of Karthain, which I certainly craved; a new kind of con game for the Gentlemen Bastards to run; and especially the lack of a cliffhanger ending.

And on top of that, there were lots of little things I didn’t precisely know I’d wanted, but got anyway. Like enough information about the Eldren, however minimal, for me to believe they’ll be relevant before the series ends. (Which is cool, because ancient traces of civilization are inherently cool, and moreso if they eventually matter as more than set dressing.) And like the sense of a circle closing with these three books forming a trilogy within the larger sequence. And like the clinched certainty after said three books that if there’s one thing I can rely on in Lynch’s writing, it’s that whatever the characters and the reader think the game is, it’s always going to be something else[3]. And like that bitch of an after-the-credits scene. Because seriously, twelve pages of me shaking my head in less-than-mute denial over what I know in my bones is about to happen? Somewhere along the way, someone told a pretty good story if I care that much about, y’know, these characters.

It occurs to me that the structure of this review indicates a paragraph where I allowed for the book’s shortcomings, as a contrast to what had come before and fulfillment of my original desire to not falsely claim greatness. But over the course of putting this together, I’ve found that whatever flaws certainly did exist? I don’t care enough about them to dredge any up. So, there you go, I guess.

Also, there’s a fairly significant spoiler behind the cut.

[1] It’s a real place. In Montana. Look it up.
[2] In both the literary and… well, moral doesn’t seem to be the right term here, does it? So what I really meant for the second half was strength of personality, and now it’s not a clever, dual-purpose metaphor any longer. Luckily, nobody reads footnotes.
[3] If any of the characters actually learns that, in a meaningful way and where they can use the knowledge? It could be that they’ll finally win that big score they keep working toward. (Whether said score is physical or emotional in nature is left as an exercise for the author.)

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Gone Home

header_292x136Although I have not touched a game on PC since probably 2006 at the latest, I still have a Steam account from back when that was a reasonable place to play the various Half-Life sequels. This is relevant because, some months ago, a friend gifted me a first-person (rather than text) interactive fiction game called Gone Home. I took a week or so getting the Steam client to work with my laptop (since I’m not going to put a game on a desktop and the Steambox still shimmers hazily in my future), and then I played about 45 minutes of the game and set it aside.

Which is not to say anything bad about it, I just have a habit of not completing games, which is why even one that lasts about two hours took me two or three months to actually finish, and honestly I’m a little surprised it happened all the same. So, what’s the deal? It’s 1995, and you the player have just returned home from backpacking in Europe. Only, nobody answered the phone, nobody picked you up at the airport, and the house is dark, silent, and (thanks to an ominous storm, pervasive minor key mood music, and the implausibility of every family member being away) kind of menacing. Still, it’s IF, so the only thing to do is wander from room to room, reading the notes and computer screens and various detritus of daily life that your family has left scattered around, trying to figure out what has happened here.

At two hours, “what happened here?” is pretty much the whole game, so I won’t say anything to spoil it, but I appreciated that every resident has a story waiting to be discovered, and I also appreciated that each story was opaque to the other residents, wrapped up in their own lives and troubles, only discoverable by the player because you are coming in with a fresh eye after having been gone from home for like nine months.Exciting high adventure, it’s not, but it sets a hell of an atmosphere, at turns creepy, depressing, or nostalgic. I’m not sure I’d pay the $20 Steam has it listed at as of press time, but as a gifted diversion, it definitely hits the spot.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Venom Wars

51ekb2WP7OL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The cover blurb for Venom Wars talks about the measure of a hero being the quality of his enemies, and I do not disagree that Venom is one badass of an enemy. But it did make me realize that Bendis owes Miles Morales some new enemies of his own. Okay, the Prowler kind of counts, but I want to see enemies that have never existed in the Marvel universe before, just like Miles didn’t a few short years ago. Mind you, that has nothing to do with the matter at hand, it’s just a thing I’m thinking.

That said, there’s not a whole lot more to add here that wouldn’t be a spoiler. (And believe me, there are a few big spoilers available in this book.) Venom? Check. Lots of public and personal fallout from ace reporter Betty Brant’s determination to learn the identity of the new Spider-Man? Check. Continued respect for J. Jonah Jameson? Yep, although I kind of feel like he should drop back to the periphery unless he gets somehow directly involved in Miles’ life. Sudden turns of fate and plot hooks for the future and random hilarities? It’s a Spider-Man comic, so there’d better be!

Yep, that’s all I’ve got, basically.

Red Seas under Red Skies revisited

sl_redseasuBefore I consider further my feelings upon my reread of Red Seas under Red Skies, first, an excerpt from my original review, in May of 2008: “[T]he third book […] is due out in January. I am now sad.” So, yeah, that estimate was off by nearly five years. Whee! (True story: I have indeed remained sad over that period of time.)

The downside of such a long gap is that my overflowing excitement for the series has definitely died back a little. It’s hard to unreservedly recommend a series, or maintain a high level of excitement, after a surprise six year absence. The upside of the delay is that I “had” to read the books again, and they really are so good. By and large, I stand by my assessment after all. These really are the most fun pair of books I’ve read. They may fall apart soon after (I really hope not and will find out by sometime in Februaryish), they may not be the strongest on the literary scale or the political scale or the sweeping history of humanity scale, but they are hilarious and heart-breaking and absolutely clever as can be, and I’m glad a third one came out, five years late or not.

As for the specific book? I am struck more and more by the religion. A secret 13th god, watching over thieves and pirates, who most people consider to be a heresy? Okay, that’s not the part I’m struck by, that’s just cool. What I’m struck by is how religious Locke is. Sure, he loses his path sometimes, and he questions, but he’s sincere in his beliefs and in his unwillingness to trample anyone else’s in pursuit of his goals. He’s an absolutely good man, which is an odd thing to say of a thief and murderer. Part of it is that it’s a dark world, and basically everyone is a thief and murderer (legitimized, perhaps, but nonetheless) or else a victim. Makes it a lot easier to judge a man by the content of his character without getting all wrapped up in his pesky actions. Another part of it is that the Bondsmagi of Karthain are just so horrible of a shadow across, well, everyone, that it would be pretty much impossible to look bad by comparison.

The next thing, being massively spoilery, is behind the cut. But it’s just speculation chatter, so if you haven’t read the book, there’s nothing else down there to miss. Also: you should read the book. …after you read the first book, of course.

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

MV5BMjIyMjMwNDU3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzYxODU5OA@@._V1__SX640_SY720_Cutting right to the chase, the cinematic adaptation of Catching Fire was superior in every way to the first film, and more than that, it told a better story than its source material did. So there’s quite a lot of good here.

See, the really quite spectacular Jennifer Lawrence[1] has been given much better material this time around, and what looked in the book like a girl stumbling blindly into the role of hero of the rebellion looks here like a game of cat and mouse between Katniss Everdeen and President Snow. (In case I’m pretending you already know what’s going on in the sequel of an adaptation of a trilogy of books, I am. In case that bothers you: there’s this girl who not only won an annual deathmatch designed to keep the common folk down on bended knee before Snow’s Capitol, she beat the system and won for her boyfriend(?) as well, which nobody has ever done before. She made Snow look symbolically weak, and people have become inspired by her, and this entire movie is basically a reaction to that premise. Also, there’s another deathmatch, since those are annual like I said.)

Whereas in the book, I contemplated that Katniss’ transformation into a symbol of the rebellion was certainly implausible but possibly not meant to seem that way, it is played note perfect here. She’s only trying to be a good person, but everything she does exposes the hollowness behind Snow’s power, so it’s easy to see why people would be inspired by her, despite her own doubts, anger, and insecurities. And it still doesn’t hurt that you can’t see inside her head, as she is growing more likable along the film trajectory instead of less so along the one that played out in the novels.

I’m still not convinced that the mess of a third novel can be rescued, but if the same writing/directing team tackle that adaptation, I will find myself hopeful all the same.

[1] I have got to see Winter’s Bone. Probably also the movie last year she got the Oscar for?